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Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

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The LA Times has nominated five books in each of nine different categories for the 2007 Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. In the weeks leading up to the Festival of Books where the winners will be announced, LAist will take a quick look at each category and will wax poetic on a few favorites (or least favorites) along the way. Black Swan Green is a Fiction nominee.

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David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green is a departure for Mitchell – quiet and controlled while examining a year in the life of a 13-year-old-boy, instead of the bold, complicated, wildly imagined colliding worlds of his previous books. While many have argued that BSG is too quiet, too controlled, we found it to be a refreshing change, an indication of true versatility: just when you begin to expect a certain type of work from Mitchell, he delivers something else entirely.

So what does he deliver exactly? A touching tale about 13-year old Jason Taylor living in the small English village of Black Swan Green, that shines a brilliant (if painful) light on the many awkward moments that fill adolescence. Jason’s journey is full of bullies who beat him up, friends who abandon him, ghosts who haunt him, parents on the brink of divorce, and a few odd characters that threaten to topple his precarious “ranking” in the popularity contest that is teenagedom in 1982 England.

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As if all this weren’t enough, Jason has a stammer that he calls Hangman, because it’s always hanging him up when he wants to say something. Words that begin with N & S are particularly challenging and he’s constantly trying to call up and emit a different, yet equal, word that doesn’t present quite as much of a challenge.