Review by: John Kurtenbach
Spud is perhaps the most successful South African Young Adult title. Written in diary style, the story follows John “Spud” Milton and his adventures at a private school in 1990 South Africa. The book is a bildungsroman of sorts as Spud offers hilarious stories of growing up. At the same time, this is a historical novel as 1990 South Africa was a place emerging from Apartheid to Independence. Nelson Mandela had just been released and the country was in a period of uncomfortable growth (note that South Africa experienced a mini civil war at this time which is largely absent from the history we are taught). As such, the book is a metaphor for South Africa.
Spud is a scrappy, fun kid with wacky parents. He is a scholarship student, which allows for commentary of the system at the time. It all makes for great humor, particularly for fathers and sons as readers. To be fair, some of the humor borders on puerile and locker room type banter and in that sense, one needs to read this as a title set in 1990 and at a prestigious all boys school. Highly relatable for many South Africans (presumably the target audience) and again, seen through the lens of the changes hitting South Africa, the book remains relevant. That Spud never really comes of age is perhaps another metaphor of the book.
There are three follow-up titles but the first book remains the best. In 2010, a film was released, including John Cleese among the cast. The film was hugely popular in South Africa and many South Africans that I have met have read the book and seen the film. Spud, for me, remains a South African classic that accurately hit the target for a people adjusting to a long overdue cultural shift. For avid adult readers, I would pair this with The Bang Bang Club.
You can purchase this book here.
*Book purchases made via our affiliate link may earn GLLI a small commission at no cost to you.
About the author
John van de Ruit is a professional actor, playwright, and author. He gained notable success for his satirical play, Green Mamba. I would think that Spud is in part autobiographical, as van de Ruit attended a private school and surely identifies with the oeuvre of Spud, the novel.
Reviewer: John Kurtenbach
23 years as an overseas librarian, I am currently working at the American International School of Johannesburg. You can reach me at email@example.com.
Curator of the second #IntlYALitMonth at Global Literature in Libraries Initiative:
Linda Hoiseth is the high school librarian at the American School of Dubai and has previously worked at schools in the US, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Poland, Peru, Qatar, and India. She has a B.S. in English and Secondary Education, an M.S. in Curriculum and Instruction, and a graduate certificate in School Library Media. Linda is an IB workshop leader and a member of the ECIS Libraries Special Interest Group. She’s a fierce advocate for all students to have access to all the books. Follow her on Twitter.