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Posts Tagged ‘adolescence’

Black Swan Green is a fictional village in Worcestershire where in 1982, 13 year old Jason Taylor lives with his parents and sister. This book, narrated by Jason, tells the story of a year in his life. It’s a tumultuous year – Jason is clearly intelligent and sensitive,  but he’s also a young boy with a stammer, picked on at school and unable to pick up the subtle hints of disharmony in his parents’ marriage.

But Black Swan Green is also a very funny book, in parts anyway. Jason is an engaging narrator and entirely believable. The events he describes are things that we will all be familiar with and take on huge significance in a young mind. It’s less of a flowing story, more joined up snapshots of a year in the life. Each chapter concentrates on a different main event, but they all string together nicely.

I felt for Jason, partly because he was so believable. I wanted him to be able to go to school without fear of what the bullies would do next (and boy did I want those bullies to get their comeuppance). I wanted him to get the girl, to overcome his stutter (or more importantly overcome the misery it caused him). The other characters are beautifully drawn as well – I enjoyed the chapter about his visiting cousin Hugo – handsome, charming and loved by all, but who’s true colours are revealed, to Jason at least.

As someone who was also a teenager in the 1980s, this book resonated with me and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I highly recommend it for it’s humour, truth and beautiful writing.

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Zadie Smith’s third novel focuses on two rival academics, Howard Belsey and Monty Kipps, and their respective families.  While these two men are feuding, their wives are making friends and their children are struggling with adolescence and responsibility.  There are too many threads to cover here, but this is a story of family, race, infidelity, forgiveness, unrequited feelings, and much more.

I really REALLY enjoyed this book.  The characters seemed so completely real, each with their positive and negative, but always very human traits.  They may not always have been likeable (I actually found Howard Belsey to be never likeable), but they were identifiable.

Smith writes so beautifully, with such a wonderful, spot-on turn of phrase.  She also has an incredible eye for observational humour, with sometimes just a few words or one line making me laugh out loud.  At times I was frustrated with the characters, at times angry, and sometimes sympathetic, but whatever my feelings, I always wanted to know what was going to happen to them.

It’s not a story with a neat beginning, middle and ending – things are not necessarily wrapped up neatly; it’s almost like a snapshot of a certain period of these families’ lives.  I thoroughly enjoy it, and definitely recommend it.

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Chloe and Sue are twins.  They are blonde, beautiful, and identical.  But although they look the same, they are very different.  Chloe is pleasant, anxious to do well at school, desperate to be liked and eager to look nice.  Sue on the other hand, is abrasive – and downright horrible most of the time – rude and spiteful.  She cares little about school, or about anything at all other than Chloe.  Sue resents Chloe’s need for independence and other friends, and wants Chloe to want Sue, and nobody else.  Not even their brother, not even their parents.  As they grow increasingly apart, while always drawn together, Chloe and Sue both seem set on  path to doom.  This book follows them through their teenage years, through eating disorders, romantic entanglements, unexpected friendships, and lost dreams.

This book started well – the chapters are narrated by Sue and Chloe in turn, and I felt that the characters were well drawn, and distinctive.  Chloe actually seemed rather bland, at the start of the story, whereas Sue, though a far more interesting character, was completely unlikeable, with almost no redeeming features.  It actually felt uncomfortable to read some parts, where for example, she was very spiteful to people, and cruel to the poor family dog.  However, Sue’s behaviour is somewhat understandable when the parents’ characters are introduced – because the twins’ parents are just horrible, selfish people.  I actually felt myself getting angry with these characters while reading the book – they seemed to care little for any of their children  and were only bothered about making themselves happy.  The character in the family who I most warmed to was the twin’s brother Daniel.  He champions Sue, although she rarely sees it, and despite his hostility, obviously genuinely cares for his sisters.

For the most part, the book was compulsively readable, and touched on many adolescent issues, such as obsession with looks, the desire to ‘fit in’ and the need for individuality, while trying to forge a path towards adulthood.

However, towards the end, I found that some of the situations which the twins ended up in were slightly unbelievable, and I started tiring of both girls, and just wanting to sit them down and talk some sense into them.  I appreciated the fact that the book didn’t tie everything up neatly, but did still give some sense of conclusion.

I think I would probably read more by Marcy Dermansky – she certainly has a way of writing which draws you in, and creates interesting, if not always pleasant characters.  If you don’t mind all the teenage angst, this book is well worth a look.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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More of the funny stuff in Adrian Mole’s second diary. In this book Adrian deals with his parents marital problems, his on-off relationship with Pandora and depression, and his ongoing battle to be recognised in the literary world.

Very, very funny, and something that can be read and enjoyed many times.

(For more information on the Arian Mole series, please click here.)

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