Sunday, January 25, 2009

Spud: The Madness Continues

Spud: The Madness Continues, by John van de Ruit
$11.55 in the Hansisgreat Gift Shop
ISBN: 1595141901
This is the sequel to a book I reviewed about a year ago also worth checking out. You can enjoy this book on its own, but will know the characters and understand the plot better if you read the previous installment first.
John "Spud" Milton is fourteen years old and a student at a boarding school in South Africa as Apartheid is ending. Although the story occassionally touches on issues of race, it's mostly about a boy coming of age. To some extent it resembles Catcher in the Rye, but unlike Holden Caulfield, Spud is not an asshole.
In fact, he's a very sweet kid who spends most of his time getting into mischief with his gang, dubbed "the Crazy Eight", and obsessing about his first love whom he has clearly idealized. The fact that it takes place in Africa presents a new twist on the sometimes tired boarding school setting. The boys take a trip on a wild animal safari, something which would never happen in New England. They are also whipped when they misbehave, which rarely happens in American schools these days.
At the beginning of the book, he's still very child-like: his scrotum is hairless (from which his nickname is derived, for his testicles which resemble new potatoes) and he sings soprano in his school's boys' choir. By the end he's drinking, pining for sex, and dealing with all the other problems of true manhood.
He plays the part of the dove in a disastrous production of Noah's Ark, and visits London with his bohemian mother who accosts the help at their hotel when the bar doesn't open at 11 AM. His father comes up with one absurd, get rich quick scheme after another while his grandmother lapses into an obnoxious senility.
In spite of all this, Spud is never mortified as I would be. Insted, he deals with his family and friends' foibles with humor and dignity, clearly on the road to becoming a fine young man. When one of the Crazy Eight's pranks gets out of control, Spud is only concerned with doing right, not with escaping the consequences of his actions.
Don't expect too much action or controversy: this novel is based on the diary of a teenage boy, so it's mostly about longing for that first kiss and feeling self-conscious about his body. In its own quiet way, both Spud books are engaging and bring back positive memories about early adolescence. Although he was raised on a different continent, I related to the kid on almost every page. This is a good choice if you like coming-of-age novels, or if you're looking for a book for a teenager who is reluctant to read. Easy to get into, and enjoyable to the last chapter.

1 comment:

Thomas said...

I am in total agreement with you. My wife and I just read both spud books, and they had us howling with laughter. Fascinating; funny yet simple storytelling.