Wisdom of the Young

David Mitchell’s narrator in Black Swan Green, his 2006 novel about the ides and challenges of pubescent-aged childhood, is the kid inside the kid you are and once were. Like Oscar Wao, he experiences growing pains for being a bit different from the rest of the pack. Only when we grow older do we realize we were all a bit different, and probably remain to be. Still, popular consensus in high school is part of the ritual of growing up, and thirteen-year-old Jason Taylor faces these challenges with the open eyes and frustrated mind of a kid a little too aware of his surroundings.

Many of us know, or know of these struggles: parents divorcing, older sister to constantly bicker with, school bullies, first kisses, ancient old witches in the woods that heal broken bones with auspicious poultices. OK, that last might be a stretch, but not in Mitchell’s world, which, for 294 pages, is a wonderful one to inhabit (as are all his novels). We may not be able to express our childhood so well, but somehow he does it for us, with all the clarity we once had and continue to have during our better moments. This is not to glorify childhood for anything it was not. Instead, we celebrate what we had by remembering what we have.

While watching his parents’ marriage disintegrate—his father has been cheating with a grade school sweetheart; his mother begins running an uber-successful art gallery after raising two children—Jason grows tired of watching the constant one-upmanship they are putting each other through. People tearing apart others, others they supposedly love. His realization: “Me, I want to bloody kick this moronic bloody world in the bloody teeth over and over til it bloody understands that not hurting people is ten bloody thousand times more bloody important than being right.”

The wisdom of the young.

Of course, Mitchell wrote the book at age 37. Sometimes it takes a while to become a kid.

We don't always need to be discussing yoga to be doing yoga.

What more can be added to such a poignant observation about the human condition? All else is commentary, not the heart of the matter. Like my close friend Dax always says, “Never do what you hate.”

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