Black Swan Green
The trouble with kids in books (or my trouble with kids in books) is that I can never tell if it’s a precocious kid, or just a regular kid. I’ve no idea how you act or what you say & at what age. I obviously went through all that, but I haven’t a clue as to what I said or thought back then – so I usually end up underestimating. But I guess Jason Taylor is a fairly average kid. He’s in an advanced class, he writes poetry on the sly – and he’s got to deal with the grating annoyances of being a 13-year-old (fluctuating status, bullies, girls, teachers and other various cruelties), a stammer and, by the end of the book, divorcing parents.
But he makes for a sympathetic & likable character – which is actually more than I can say about the kid in Perks of a Wallflower or Extremely loud & incredibly close – and you kinda root for him, but, at the same time, you just know he’ll be ok. Through all the weirdness that is being 13, he manages to have a sort of healthy (and sometimes quite mature) outlook on life.
One of the fun things with David Mitchell is spotting references to his previous works and, while Wikipedia got more than I did, it’s only because I’ve only read Cloud Atlas and Ghostwritten. It was actually a surprise seeing Eva Crommelynck as an old woman (a slightly Miss Havisham-like old woman), when her history started in Cloud Atlas with Robert Frobisher being hired as her father’s assistant… and knowing what Neal-Brose-the-young-bully will end up to be and how he’ll die had a sad tinge of omniscience.
Black Swan Green is said to capture perfectly the atmosphere of the era (1982) – but I wouldn’t know about that. To me, it’s just a small town populated with a handful of quirky characters (Madame Crommelynck, the gypsies, the supposed crazy teacher with the Dobermans, the insane asylum, the old lady in the woods) that end up being swallowed by the pragmatism of the villagers – much like the wonderment of childhood ends up trampled by adulthood. The year Black Swan Green spends with Jason Taylor may not be filled with great adventures of grand lessons, but you know it’s a turning point in the kid’s life and that’s what makes it significant. And it’s a fun read, too.