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Spud    by John van de Ruit order for
by John van de Ruit
Order:  USA  Can
Razorbill, 2007 (2007)
* * *   Reviewed by Ricki Marking-Camuto

John van de Ruit's Spud is an engaging story that might well become a classic. Told entirely in journal entries, the woes of John Milton (aka Spud) in his first year at boarding school are sure to captivate audiences young and old alike. It is 1990 and John Milton is starting his first year as a scholarship student at an elite boarding school in Durban, South Africa. Immediately, John is nicknamed Spud because he is the only boy at the school who has not gone through puberty yet.

Despite his degrading nickname, Spud is determined to make his mark at school. Spud quickly becomes the pet of his drunken English teacher, who gets him hooked on the classics. He tries out - and gets the lead - in Oliver, which is being performed in conjunction with the nearby all-girls school. And he gets into loads of trouble with his dorm mates, The Crazy Eights. Along the way, he also gets involved in the anti-apartheid movement after learning about Nelson Mandela's release. As the school year progresses, Spud's friendships change. He manages to become popular with the girls, despite his spudness, and actually juggles three girlfriends at once. By the end, Spud has learned a little about himself through the twists and turns of his first year at boarding school, but he still has a long way to go.

One of the greatest elements of Spud is John van de Ruit's ability to realistically portray a year in the life of a fourteen-year-old boy. Unlike so many similar novels, there is no big climax with a definite resolution. The story goes through the highs and lows of Spud's life, but there is no neat wrapping-up of everything at the end. Most books that end like this leave the reader wanting more, but since van de Ruit's writing is so true-to-life, the end is very satisfying because that is how life really is, and this is what makes it so genuine and such genius.

John van de Ruit's Spud is a true slice of life novel, which is what makes it a must read. It has parts that will make the reader laugh, cry, and everything in between. Many reviews from its release in South Africa last year compare it to Catcher in the Rye. Yes, Spud does have the makings of a great modern classic, but it is so much more entertaining than Catcher in the Rye that there is no comparison.

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