This is a hilarious novel set in South Africa in 1990. The book spans the time when the apartheid crumbles and Nelson Mandela is released from prison, but surprisingly it isn’t some book about foreign politics. “Spud” follows a boy, John Milton, through his experience in an all boys private boarding school (in Africa of course). Milton’s life is full of typical boyhood problems: girls, sports, academics, and hazing. The novel connects all those aspects with a humorous spin, and perhaps an exaggerated narrative voice.
“Spud” is John’s nickname given to him by other boys in the school. Spud is at the school on academic scholarship and begins his first days scared and worried. His dorm-mates are the wackiest people he’s ever met, and they throughout the novel get in lots of trouble. But within the school trouble means being cool and earning bragging rights amongst the other students. They eventually earn the group name “Crazy Eight” for all their feats.
Spud also has to deal with leaving his beloved, but crazy, relatives and the girl he loves. His mom is the normal one of the family, but she has her work cut-out managing a forgetful grandmother and Spud’s governmentally-paranoid father. But the person he misses most of all is Mermaid, his beautiful water-loving girlfriend. Spud makes a point to constantly write letters and keep in touch with distant family and friends.
John van de Ruit writes a story that touches on all the emotions. You feel the love and companionship from the schoolboys and Spud’s parents. The daring acts and sly jokes from the “Crazy Eight” bring tons of laughter. But de Ruit doesn’t just omit the tense political and opinion differences of the period, plus the culture and difficulties with South Africa are hit as well. All around great great great book. Some say it is the South African equivalent to Catcher in the Rye. Spud by John van de Ruit is my new favorite book.