Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"Black Swan Green" by David Mitchell

Summary: Black Swan Green follows a year in the life of thirteen-year-old Jason Taylor.  In this quiet bildungsroman, Jason deals with bullies, his fear of being outed as a stammerer, and his constant attempt to hide who he is in order to go unnoticed.

Musings: Black Swan Green is a book that excels entirely on the strong voice of its protagonist, Jason. The reader feels completely inside his head, and his acute desire to fit in is something I imagine everyone can understand.  Jason has a poet's soul, and because of that his prose is always engaging, whether its the personification of his stammer (called Hangman, who knows just when to trip him up) or his constant war with what he can and can't do (like noticing things are beautiful but being unable to say so because the word beautiful is "gay").

In particular, Mitchell catches the intricacies and tacit rules of being a teenage boy; image is everything and the punishments for being different are harsh.  Jason's navigation of school occurs simultaneously with his growing awareness of the problems in his parents' marriage, and both aspects of his life are weaved together in a way that feels real.  Perhaps this is because story is not told in a straightforward narrative but rather through short story-like chapters, chronicling the entire year in Jason's life.

The novel has a satisfying ending without being cheesy, and Jason grows without finishing growing. Black Swan Green is a more standard story than I typically read, but Mitchell's strong style makes is a completely unique read.

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