________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 19 . . . . May 15, 2009

cover Slam Dunk. (Orca Sports).

Kate Jaimet.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2009.
166 pp., pbk., $9.95.
ISBN 978-1-55469-132-6.

Grades 5-10 / Ages 10-15.

Review by Ruth Latta.

*** /4


"That's thinking like a loser... You've got to think like a winner," I said. "Listen. Someone out there is messing with Inez. And if he's messing with her, he's messing with all of us. 'Cause we're a team, right? So are we going to let him win or are we going to fight back?'

"Slam", Salvador Luis Amaro, the narrator of Slam Dunk, is serving as assistant coach of the Brookfield High School girls' basketball team. His reason? He wants to be chosen for the Ontario Under-Seventeen Basketball Team to represent the province at the Canada-wide championships. When he came to the question on the application form concerning "community activities," he realized he had none, other than "hanging out at the park shooting hoops," and so he volunteered to help Mrs. Ramirez coach the girls.

     Mrs. Ramirez, a Spanish teacher, is of Chilean origin, like Slam, though a more recent arrival to Canada than he and his parents. Slam's parents came to Canada in the 1980s to escape the repressive right-wing Pinochet regime, but the Ramirez family immigrated to Canada more recently.

     Slam Dunk is an engaging maturation story in the guise of a sports novel. Troubling historical events and family violence come into the story, and the question of whether or not Slam makes the team becomes less important as the story progresses. The tone of the novel is reader-friendly and witty, as illustrated by Slam's observation that "Number 20 was a big boned girl who used her butt as a weapon of attack." Ottawa readers will enjoy the author's references to actual high schools and to the Rideau Centre food court where Slam meets Inez Ramirez, the coach's daughter, for lunch.

     Inez Ramirez is the strongest player on the girls' team, but, as the novel opens, she has a black eye and is in no shape to lead her team to victory over Glebe Collegiate. When she and her mother abruptly leave the gym, Slam rises to the occasion but cannot inspire the girls to win.

     Later, during a practice, Mrs. Ramirez receives a hand-delivered letter which she tears up. Intrigued, Slam pieces it together and reads, "Don't do anything stupid. This is a warning." When the Ramirez mother and daughter go absent from school, and when a burly man appears in the gym, looking around, Slim begins investigating.

     Meanwhile, at try-outs for the Ontario team, Slam meets "guys... so big they needed binoculars to check if their shoes were tied." Coach Donovan tells him that "guys who aren't team players don't make the final cut." When Slam declares that he is a "natural", a"feeling" kind of player rather than the "playbook" sort, the coach says, "See how you like the feeling of your backside on the bench."

     Gradually, Slam realizes that he has been spending too much time dreaming of stardom and relying on his natural ability. Through his concern for Inez, he also learns more than he wanted to know about parental abuse and Pinochet's secret police. In the end, Slam has grown as a person, and has brought a criminal to justice.

     Slam Dunk is much more than a sports novel. Here, readers see a skilled author working within the confines of a genre and transcending it.


Ruth Latta, author of five novels published by Baico, (baico@bellnet.ca) teaches a course on novel-writing at St. Nicholas School in Ottawa, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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