Matt Okine has, in Being Black ‘n’ Chicken, & Chips, opened a very interesting dialog on coming of age, coping with curves life throws at you and puberty, through the eyes and emotions of Mike Amon, a kid who is at the cusp of the very real world of becoming a teenager; a kid who just wants to be like everyone else, fall in love, well at least have his first kiss and become a star athlete. Mike just wants to be cool!
It’s 1998 and Mike has just started high school. He and his Mum have recently returned from a trip to Tasmania as a celebration of his completing primary school, a trip which was absolutely something special and kind of marked the completion of one life and the beginning another.
He rather fancies Zoe Ingham, a girl from school who he desperately wants to hang out with, share a first kiss with, spend time with and as thirteen-year old’s do, he spends hours dreaming about their first date, practicing kissing and in between times trying to be the best athlete possible.
When his beloved Mum is diagnosed with terminal Cancer, life for Mike changes dramatically as he has to spend much more time with his dad: A dad he does not know very well, a dad who does things very differently, a dad who is African.
As the days pass, Mike has to try and accept that his Mum not going to recover, no matter how desperately he wants this to happen and that his life will change forever.
Although there are similarities between Okines background and that of Mike, this is most definitely Mikes story, told through the eyes of pubescent youth suddenly discovering that life is more often black that white, discovering friendship can be found in the most unlikely of places, and that growing up comes with responsibilities and choice.
Matt Okine takes the almost taboo subjects of grief, puberty and racism, weaving them into the story in a manner that tugs on the emotions, returns every reader to the days of their adolescence, handles deftly the issue of racism, faces the finality of death and the grieving process in a candid and yet very down to earth style.
In his compelling debut novel, Okine has laced the somewhat sombre storyline together with skill, humour and almost cringeworthy lines from Mike, as he tries to weave his way though a rapidly changing world of denial, acceptance and challenge and in doing so has created a work with broad appeal.
A beautiful story, an enthralling read.