Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

I have been a distracted reader this summer, and was just craving something that would draw me in. I have been hearing much hype about Mitchell for years, but every time I picked up his supposed masterpiece, Cloud Atlas, I kept dropping it faster than a sweaty gym sock. I mean, I’m all for experimental fiction and fractured narratives, but my brain just hasn’t been up for it of late. So when my friend Hannah told me how much she had been enjoying his latest (and my dear friend Nick told me he loved it, too, so I’d had plenty of prompting), I dusted off my advance reader’s copy and finally got down to it.

Let me just say that I am a sucker for coming-of-age novels. If they’re set in the 80’s (when I grew up), then all the better—and if they’re set in Britain (where I wish I’d grown up), well, then, what am I waiting for? The protagonist of this one is Jason Taylor—a lonely 13-year-old who secretly writes poetry and has a nasty, hindering stammer who wants desperately to fit in and be accepted by his peers. Unfortunately, the boys in his school like to use him for a punching bag. But who wants to read about the perfect, popular kid anyway? This book is heartbreaking and always honest about the wretched state of insecure boyhood. And Mitchell has some absolutely memorable characters here, and has created a solid, true story about a boy coming of age during the Falklands war, surviving divorce, and navigating the grisly public school halls while giving you a glimpse of the fine young man he will become.

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