Spud -- John van de Ruit

1990:  Nelson Mandela and Pretty Woman are released, and thirteen-year-old John Milton enters an all-boys boarding school in Durban, South Africa.

SpudOnce there, he is almost immediately nicknamed 'Spud', due to his lack of hair Down There.  Over the course of the year, his diary entries describe his relationship with his English teacher:

06:40  Our first lesson was English with an extraordinary teacher called Mr. Edly (nickname The Guv--a nickname he said he was given when he was a boy at the school).  He has a very posh English accent and strides around with a walking stick, swearing like a maniac.  His long legs and bulging eyes make him look like a giant praying mantis.  He had some spectacular outbursts (within five minutes he'd threatened to shoot off Boggo's head with a shotgun).  The highlight of the class was when he threw a pile of Henry James novels out of the window and called the author "a boring poof."  We all applauded; he bowed and then told us to get lost.

Falling in love with Julia Roberts:

20:00  Watched Pretty Woman, starring Julia Roberts, in the common room.  She is perfectly beautiful.  Wickedly envious of Richard Gere.  When I leave school, I will drive around looking for prostitutes like Julia.

Going illegal night swimming, trying out for the school musical, falling in love with a Mermaid and reading The Best Book Ever Written.  Also, his father's terror about the end of apartheid and his mother's conviction that their maid is running a brothel out of her apartment.  And then there are the Wombat stories.

Okay -- this doesn't really have a whole lot to due with the book itself, but I feel like I have to mention it anyway:  Other than the fact that they're both coming-of-age stories, the comparison to Catcher in the Rye (both in the publisher's marketing info and the blurb on the front of the book) doesn't make sense to me.  The books are both emotionally honest, but the tones (and plots) are so very different that if there hadn't been a blurb on the front of the book describing the book as "South Africa's Catcher in the Rye!", it certainly wouldn't have come to mind.  Regardless of Spud's personal feelings about him*, if I had to describe the book in ten words or less, I'd have said: Imagine Adrian Mole at boarding school in South Africa.

The odd marketing didn't detract from my enjoyment, though.  Spud is bawdy, touching, vulgar, rowdy, hilarious and again, honest.  I'm looking forward to the next installment.

*This is what he has to say about Adrian Mole:

Worst book:  The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole (Any boy's diary written by a woman is not to be trusted.)  Adrian Mole is a raving nerd who wouldn't last one day in our dormitory.  Even Gecko is less cowardly that this Lucozade-drinking, pill-popping, pimply Brit!  (I did think the book was hilarious, though.)

Sounds like the author was aware that comparisons were inevitable, so he decided to address them right in the text, no?