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Spud – Exit, Pursued by a Bear PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 10 December 2012 08:58

By John van de Ruit
Review by Tomas Masojada

Before reading the book, the title suggests that there shall be some sort of ending and finality about it. The quote, “Exit, Pursued by a Bear”, is one that John Milton (Spud) and his English teacher (The Guv) – a poetry fanatic - often announce to each other and is extracted from Shakespeare’s play, A Winter’s Tale. The quote has reference to death in this play but on the other hand it is an appropriate title for the fourth “Spud” book because it refers to his departure from school and the end of his final year. The title also implies that this may be the last book in the series that has delighted so many young readers.

The novel is written from the point of view of the protagonist – Spud Milton – and records his daily life as a student as well as his hilarious time at home in his diary.The entire series is targeted at a younger age group between the ages of 13 and 18 as it captures teenagers’ minds. Thirteen year olds are about to encounter High School and for them the “Spud” series provides a wildly exaggerated version of what high school will be like, thus increasing their excitement and eagerness. This is not to say that readers over this age group would not enjoy this popular series. An informal register is used as it is a personal diary format.

John van de Ruit’s ability to empathise with this student has made this book and series such a great success. This strength has allowed readers to feel the pressure that Spud feels throughout his grade 12 year and gives us the ability to relate to the boy that most South African teenagers now know so well.

I found the previous Spud novel, Learning to fly, not as great as I anticipated it would be. However, Exit, Pursued by a Bear was a huge improvement and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The wide variety of characters and personalities make the book more interesting and there is development in not only Spud’s personality but also in the rest of the Crazy Eights. In addition to this, the group grow closer and perform even more ridiculous stunts such as streaking through St Catherine’s School For Girls naked as well as travelling to Lake Malawi on a sponsored trip. Spud’s ‘hero and villain’ moments on the cricket field, his creativity and excellence in theatre as well as his duties as a prefect and academic strength (Maths excluded) are not forgotten and are all enclosed within the novel’s 410 pages.

Spud Milton grows from a grade 11 to a matric and a prefect, from an actor to the director of the competition winning house play. Responsibilities are thrust upon him and against all odds and through any means (even bribery) he overcomes them and survives. As the plot develops to the climax of the school Matric Dance and looming final exams, so too does Spud mature as a student in the school, a son to his chaotic parents and as a grandson to his infamously delusional grandmother, Wombat.

There were areas in the book where I found myself having to re-read pages again to fully understand what was being said. A few online reviews said that the nicknames of each of the different characters were very confusing, however, having read “Spud” from the first novel, I found no problem with this.

The way in which it is written is clever and well structured, each day acted as a sort of chapter or sub-chapter and the plot held the unexpected twists and turns that you would expect in any novel containing the diversity of personalities known as the Crazy Eight. It achieved what it set out to do and it was a great finishing touch on a overall successful series. It let out the secrets of boarding school and one could argue that it prepared some younger readers for the years to come and the challenges and joys of Matric and High School.

Each new book that has been released in this series has built upon the previous one, providing even more humour as well as introducing and saying goodbye to various characters along the way. How John van de Ruit described some of Spud’s “best days of [his] life” left me shivering with delight and wanting to keep on reading.

As a teenager, I have always looked forward to the release of the latest “Spud” novel and have never thought about not reading it when it arrives. I would recommend the series to those who haven’t read it and am slightly sad now that I have completed it. Parents should show it to their children; but if not, I am sure that they will find out about it without your help!