Title: Being Black ‘n Chicken, and Chips
Author: Matt Okine
Published: September 24th 2019
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Humour
Rating: 3 stars
Mike Amon is a regular teenager. All he wants is to fit in. He wants to sit at the cool bench. He wants to be a star athlete. He wants his first kiss.
He also wants his mum to survive.
When his mum is suddenly diagnosed with advanced breast and brain cancer, Mike knows it’s a long shot, but if he manages to achieve his dreams, maybe it’ll give his mum enough strength to beat an incurable disease.
In the meantime, he has to live with his African dad whom he doesn’t really know, a man who has strange foreign ways – and who Mike doesn’t really feel comfortable sharing his teenage desires and deepest fears with. He doesn’t even want to think about what it might mean if his mum never comes home from the hospital.
Based on his award-winning stand-up show, and the loss of his own mother when he was 12, Matt Okine’s coming-of-age novel, Being Black n Chicken and Chips, is a funny, heart-warming, and sometimes surreal look at how young people deal with grief, the loss of loved ones, and becoming an adult – all whilst desperately trying to fit in with the other kids.
‘It’s just … you can’t treat me like a kid anymore. I’ll be a grown up soon.’
Introduced as ‘intimate and affecting’ by Australian actress Claudia Karvan, Being Black ‘n Chicken, and Chips is the fictional, but also semi-autobiographical novel by comedian Matt Okine. This coming of age story will draw in both young and adult fiction readers. Entertaining, humiliating and sad, Being Black ‘n Chicken, and Chips is an honest portrayal of a boy learning to negotiate the difficult terrain of incoming teenage life.
Meet Mike Amon, a teenage boy who desperately wants to blend into the crowd. With aspirations to be a winning athlete and to experience his first kiss, Mike’s world comes crashing down when his mum is diagnosed with cancer. In honour of the mother he loves, Mike keeps plugging away at his dreams, he just wants to make his mum proud. He also has the hope that his mum will be cured of her cancer and return home. But Mike has a whole new set of problems to deal with. He is forced to reconnect with his estranged father, defeat the playground bullies and win the affections of the girl of his dreams. Mike is determined, but he is also scared that he is going to lose his mum. It is the fight of this young man’s life, told with a sense of conviction and offset by upbeat humour.
Being Black ‘n Chicken, and Chips is not normally a book I would choose to read, especially after my recent encounter with a very well-known coming of age story that I just didn’t warm to. However, this was my book club book choice for December and I decided to give it a chance. Some elements did work for me, while others had me squirming! This was one cringeworthy tale at times, while desperately sad in other moments. What an interesting dichotomy.
Coming of age stories really seem to be on trend, especially in the Australian publishing industry, so Matt Okine has clearly tapped into this burgeoning genre. I believe Being Black ‘N Chicken, & Chips is loosely based on author Matt Okine’s childhood experiences of growing up and losing his mother at an early age. Before penning this novel, Okine channelled his childhood musings into his stand up show and he has now compiled these vignettes into his first novel. The result is a heartfelt and scathingly honest glimpse into the world inhabited by a teenage boy, learning the rules of life.
As this book is set in the late 1990s, there was definitely a sense of nostalgia that went with this book. This is a time that brought back fond memories of a much simpler and less busy way of life, along with the popular trends of the time. I think Okine did a good job of travelling back to this time and depicting it from the eyes of a confused teenage boy.
Relationships are a core theme in Being Black ‘n Chicken, and Chips. From Mike’s relationship with his mother, to his strained relationship with his father, his longing for Zoe and his tenuous schoolyard friends and foes. Okine’s approach to the themes of the book in general was relaxed and laid back. However, there were moments of high emotion, plunging dark points and utter humiliation.
Coming from a comedic background, Okine injects plenty of humour and genuinely funny moments within Being Black ‘n Chicken, and Chips. There were times when I felt he ventured a bit too far. I was reminded of films such as There’s Something About Mary and American Pie in some instances in this book, it was definitely quite crass. I think Okine has consciously balanced these comical moments with serious aspect of Mike’s journey, namely his worries about his mother’s illness.
Being Black ‘n Chicken, and Chips attacks the reality of being a teenager, dealing with small and larger scale problems. It is brushed with moments of clarity, wit and raw emotional pain. A story told with understanding and tongue in cheek humour, Being Black ‘n Chicken, and Chips is a book that will link up well with a wide audience range.
Being Black ‘n Chicken, and Chips by Matt Okine is published by Hachette Australia. Out now. $29.99
To learn more about the author of Being Black ‘n Chicken, and Chips, Matt Okine, visit here.