Where has British author David Mitchell been all my life?
His novel Black Swan Green is one that went in and out a lot at the library where I worked, and I always thought it had an interesting cover, but I never felt like bringing it home. For one thing, I think I kept getting him mixed up with Mark Danielewski, and I was definitely never interested in him (as I perceived he was one of those authors who did too much playing with language and form to appeal to me, like Salman Rushdie and Michael Chabon).
So why I just lately requested and checked out Black Swan Green I can't tell you (ah, I'm already getting so old, I've forgotten why I've requested half the books on my library "hold" list). But I'm so glad I did. I loved it. It's a coming-of-age tale (don't groan--those can be painful but they can also be very, very good) of a young teenager, living in the British suburban town of Black Swan Green, striving to make it through school without being ostracized because of his stutter, and watching the slow breakdown of his parents' marriage--although he doesn't want to believe that's what he's seeing.
It's hard to give you a flavor of what I mean, as this is a book that shines as a whole but doesn't offer up too many short, quotable examples. But I really liked the 13-year-old protagonist, Jason Taylor. It's very funny, but often my favorite novels feature male adolescent characters, which is ironic because I think of teen boys as completely foreign to myself and somewhat closer to animals than human beings (I've never been overfond of most teen girls, either, snotty as they can be, which starts to explain why I'm SO glad not to be in high school anymore). When teen boys are icky, they're very, very icky. But when they're likable? They're SO likable. Think Holden Caulfield. Think John Green's male characters in Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns. Think Michael Cera's character on Arrested Development. See what I mean?
I'll leave you with one bit that I did find amusing, in which Jason is trying to figure out the related mysteries of girls and sex:
"Girls and girlfriends're worrying. Sex education's only about how to make babies and how not to make babies. What I need to know is what you do to turn ordinary girls like Sally from Blackburn into girlfriends you can snog and be seen snogging. I'm not sure if I really want to have sexual intercourse and I definitely don't want babies. Babies just poo and bawl. But not having a girlfriend means you're a homo or a total loser or both.
...I don't know whether or not I know the facts of life. You can't ask adults 'cause you can't ask adults. You can't ask kids 'cause it'd be all round school by first break. So either everybody knows everything but nobody's saying anything, or else nobody knows anything and girlfriends just sort of...happen." (p. 172.)
See what I mean? That's pretty good stuff for a coming-of-age novel. I hate to break it to this kid, but that's a lot what adulthood is like too. Everybody who knows nothing is talking a lot, and those who know something are keeping pretty quiet. Sigh. Have a good weekend, all.