"Black Swan Green" by David Mitchell

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I approached “Black Swan Green” shortly after a very memorable experience with “Cloud Atlas,” so I rushed ahead breathless and excited. “Black Swan Green” turned out to be a very different experience, which proved David Mitchell’s extreme versatility, and reinforced his rank as one of the world’s greatest writers.

Mr. Mitchell creates the (autobiographical?) character of Jason Taylor, a British lad trying to navigate the shark-infested waters of junior high, or whatever the local name for those grades is. Jason struggles to push his way into the upper echelon of school society, and seems to almost make it at one point, but otherwise is one of the faceless rabble that populate all grades at all schools. This is the story of a boy just prior to coming of age. It is compelling adventure, nevertheless.

Once I accustomed myself to the slang used in the U.K. at the time, I began to keep up a little better with this memorable ride. Jason, owner of a noble and courageous heart, suffers through the constant bullying by classmates in power. He knows the microcosm of his class is corrupt, stifled by intimidation and petty extortion. The description of his bid to overthrow this tyranny enraptures the reader who’s been paying attention, and leads to Jasie-boy’s first snog at the end of the school year.

Mr. Mitchell brings a crackling diction to this boy’s laments. He demonstrates that he can wield his language to make us want the best for his hero – we root for this appealing character, and the book finishes in a grand, satisfying manner. But the trials of the journey through this school year are real and harrowing, and I thank my lucky stars and my parents’ sacrifices for private schooling. This trip has neither the innovative flair (unless one considers the very inventive language) nor the sweeping apocalyptic vision of “Cloud Atlas,” but reaches the reader on a more completely personal level. “Black Swan Green” recounts the turning of a life from dark to promising, the graduation of a soul from passive to assertive, an ascendance of merit over selfishness. “Jasie-boy” Taylor is again, just as the highly diverting plots and loops and suffering heroes in “Cloud Atlas,” a reaffirmation of the reading life, a reminder of the simple joys and edifications of reading the right stuff. Make no mistake and waste no time! Take it up!
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