Being Black ’N Chicken, & Chips (Matt Okine, Hachette)
It’s 1998. Mike Amon is almost 13 and about to start high school. All he wants is to be good enough at athletics to be chosen for the Dobson Dash, for puberty to kick in properly, to get internet at home, and, maybe, for Zoe to notice him. He doesn’t want to think about his mum being in hospital, or any of the other bad stuff that’s happening. If he just focuses on his original goals, everything else will just work out, right? Comedian and actor Matt Okine’s debut novel is a coming-of-age story that tackles familiar themes in new and absorbing ways. There are moments that are simultaneously hilarious, unflinchingly realistic and breathtakingly awkward as Okine’s analogue, Mike, and the people around him come to grips with the heavy changes that are raining down. Loosely based on his own experiences and capturing the feeling of late 90s Australia, the book pulses with nostalgia and Okine treads the difficult line between levity and dark themes with expert skill—tackling grief, denial and racism without it ever feeling heavy-handed. The result is a compelling novel that is difficult to put down. The deeper themes and delicate comedic balance will appeal to fans of Justin Heazlewood’s Get Up Mum and Melina Marchetta’s Saving Francesca.
Elizabeth Flux is a freelance writer and editor