It's South Africa 1990. Two major events are about to happen: the release of Nelson Mandela and, more importantly, it's Spud Milton's first year at an elite boys only private school. Cursed with parents from well beyond the lunatic fringe, a senile granny, and a dormitory full of strange characters, Spud has his hands full trying to adapt to his new home. Surrounded by names such as Gecko, Rambo, Rain Man and Mad Dog, Spud takes his first tentative steps along the path to manhood. (The path, it seems, could be a rather long road.) Armed with only his wits and his diary, Spud takes us from illegal night swimming to the red-hot furnace of the cricket pitch, from ghostbusting to a catastrophic family vacation. He also invites us into the mind of a boy struggling to come to terms with a strange new world; a boy whose eyes are being opened to love, friendship and complete insanity.
John Milton, 13, a scholarship student at an elite boys' boarding school in South Africa, records his disturbing but often hilarious exploits in this diary-style first novel set in 1990. As the year begins, President F.W. de Klerk decriminalizes the African National Congress and orders the release of political prisoner Nelson Mandela but not even massive societal upheaval can get pre-pubescent boys to think about something other than girls, or set aside their depraved trick-playing. Nicknamed Spud because of his small "willy," John reports without judgment the events around him. The large cast of housemates includes mayhem leaders Rambo and Boggo, who instruct in "how to rape and pillage schoolgirls," Gecko, who succumbs to every passing malady, and Fatty, an overeater intent on breaking the school's sustained-fart record. The faculty is another can of mixed nuts: the drama teacher, unimaginatively named Eve, seduces an underclassman; the Guv begins English class by calling Henry James "a boring poof" and tossing his novels out the window. In many ways Spud appears to be a literary cousin of Louise Rennison's Georgia Nicholson, whose diaries also detail, in colorful slang, life with whacked-out relatives, obsession with emergent sexuality and school-related capers. There's a bit more heft here away from home, Spud sees his parents' racism clearly but he doesn't come of age: he's a star choirboy whose voice hasn't broken. After all, there are three years of school left and a sequel due next fall. Ages 12-up.