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Slam

by Walter Dean Myers

Book list Gr. 8^-12. On the basketball court, 17-year-old Greg "Slam" Harris is in control. His disciplined body does what he tells it, the ball becomes an extension of his arms, and his powerful legs allow him to elevate above the chaos at ground level. Off the court, however, order is elusive and elevation rarely possible: his grandmother is in the hospital, possibly dying; he has trouble fitting in at the predominantly white high school he attends; his grades are sinking ever lower; and his best friend from the neighborhood may be dealing crack. We've heard this story many times before, but Myers does a good job of rescuing his characters from stereotype. His descriptions of Slam on the court, feeling the ball's grain on his fingertips as his hands clear the rim, use crisp details, not flowery language, to achieve their muscular poetry, and Myers is equally vivid in relating the torment Slam feels as he stares at a page of indecipherable algebra formulas. Although Myers' message about one's responsibility for making life's hard choices occasionally feels a bit forced, rather than growing naturally from the story, he wisely avoids the heavily inspirational, Rocky-style finale common to so many sports novels. "Sometimes I think you guys are just heartbreaks waiting to happen," Slam's girlfriend Mtisha tells him at the end, providing a sobering coda to this admirably realistic coming-of-age novel. --Bill Ott

From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly A love of basketball isn't necessary to enjoy this gritty, feelingly told tale, but it would certainly help. Myers (The Glory Field) uses contemporary urban black locutions to relay his narrator's view of the mean streets of Harlem, as well as describe some heart-thumping hoop action in a novel that, like most good sports stories, is about more than just sports. "I can hoop," says Slam. "Case closed.... You can take my game to the bank and wait around for interest." Grandiose fantasies of his future as a millionaire NBA star?or maybe a millionaire movie producer?are about all that he has on his mind, even though he is on his way to flunking out of the magnet high school he just transferred to, his grandmother is dying, his father is out of work and hitting the bottle again and his oldest friend appears to be dealing crack. Only when he is playing basketball does Slam know what moves to make and how to relate to the people around him. The rest of the time he stumbles, alienating his mother, girlfriend, teachers, even his coach and teammates. But, as the plain-speaking assistant coach tells him, "Everybody is in the game off the court," and Slam finally realizes that it's his attitude, not other people, that holds him back. Enduring truths, winningly presented. Ages 12-up. (Nov.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

School Library Journal Gr 8 Up-Seventeen-year-old Greg, nicknamed Slam because of his ability on the basketball court, is the narrator of this street-wise novel. He is one of a small number of blacks who attends the Latimer Arts Magnet School in the Bronx. Though a junior, this is his first year at Latimer; he has problems keeping his grades up, and his basketball coach and some teammates resent his playing style. Along with these struggles, Slam faces some typical teenage woes with the opposite sex, his younger brother, etc., as well as some more serious concerns-a father who drinks too much, drugs on the streets, and a good friend heading for big trouble. Slam's battles both on and off the court parallel one another, demonstrating that easy resolutions to difficult problems are rare. As the book reaches its climax, the young man begins to realize that he needs to approach life like he does basketball, which is a possible start in the right direction. Plenty of high-intensity basketball action and street lingo from the "hood" will appeal to reluctant readers. Once again, Myers produces a book that reinforces his standing as a preeminent YA author. Booktalk this title along with James Bennett's Squared Circle (1995) and David Klass's Danger Zone (1996, both Scholastic) to basketball-minded teens.-Tom S. Hurlburt, La Crosse Public Library, WI

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.