Jason Taylor has all the problems of a typical 13 year-old. He worries over his status amongst his peers; he worries over what girls think of him, or if they do at all. He has to put up with his older sister and feels disconnected from his parents. On top of all that he has a speech impediment. He's a chronic stutterer, a condition which came on rather suddenly during a class game of Hangman. He has special problems with words beginning with N and S, so he communicates through a series of workarounds, often rephrasing simple sentences to get his point across.
The summary above makes David Mitchell's Black Swan Green seem like a rather standard young adult novel. It is anything but. What sets it apart is, for one, the voice of Jason Taylor which is both breathless and witty. He divides himself into multiple personalities (not in a lunatic sort of way) including the Hangman who is responsible for his stutter and the Unborn Twin who sometimes acts as his conscious.
In part what is special is the setting. The story takes place in the 1980s, a time plagued by avoidable wars and economic difficulty. Jason is English and lives in a rural area not unlike much of the USA's rural areas in which new exurban suburbs encroach upon farmland and wilderness. In David Mitchell's hands the place, the village of Black Swan Green, becomes surreal, peppered with strange landmarks and peopled by odd adult characters who Jason continually meets under strange circumstances. From a reclusive herbalist who heels Jason's damaged ankle in a spooky cabin in the woods to a poetry-loving neighbor who lures Jason to her home to lecture him on his "work," Jason's world is always strange, sometimes frightening and always hilarious.
Be prepared. The combination of a semi-stream-of-consciousness narrative and regular peppering of Britishisms, makes Black Swan Green a challenging read. But it's well worth the effort.
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