Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

Black Swan Green
A year in the life of Jason Taylor: thirteen, British, equally naïve and gifted with insight, and a stammerer. Love this book! Honest. Well-crafted. Full of popular culture references from the early eighties. On page 211, Holly Deblin (who later becomes Jason’s first kiss), gives him some advice that sums up what the step Jason must ultimately take to grow beyond what he struggles with in this book, “You’re not a maggot. Don’t let dickheads decide what you are” (211).
The novel is told from Jason’s point of view with lots of interior monologue that demonstrates his naivete (he’s only 13!), his keen power of observation and insight into life and relationships, and his common struggle to be the person he most wants to be. The book is funny, poignant, and full of delightful comparisons that lift the words off the page, creating powerful images and associations.
There is a fitting allusion to Lord of the Flies in which Jason has to read aloud, thus exposing his stammer to all and humiliating him. The author does not shy from just how cruel children can be to each other without unrealistically demonizing the bully. The story seeks to empower the individual against society, a theme that is clearly laid out by the poem Jason finds on his English teacher’s desk when going to retrieve his whistle,”Don’t laugh at what you don’t find funny./ Don’t support and opinion you don’t hold./ The independent befriend the independent./ Adolescence dies in its fourth year. You live to be eighty” (213).
I am awed by how well this book is written, how real Jason Taylor felt to me. As a parent of a bright, sometimes shy thirteen-year-old boy, my question now is: How can I get him to read this book? I want to buy copies by the dozens and pass them out in the hallway at the high school where I teach. There are lots of stories about bullies. This is the most intelligent, real, and empowering treatment of the subject I’ve ever come across.

A few good lines:

“It’s easier to change your eyeballs than to change your nickname” (16).
“Who decides which defects are funny and which ones tragic? Nobody laughs at blind people or makes iron lung jokes” (36).
“A cow of an awkward pause mooed” (52).
“Hate smells of burnt dead fireworks” (74).
“Stewy air stroked Dawn Madden’s white chocolate throat” (83).
“The earth’s a door, if you press your ear against it” (91).
“The last days of freedom rattle like a nearly empty box of Tic Tacs” (191).

So many more…

 

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