When I moved house last year, I stumbled across one of my most treasured possessions. Resplendent in all its blue and yellow glory, my Blue Peter diary from when I was 10 was a truly exciting find and I couldn’t help but read every word between that garishly gorgeous hardback cover. It was a touching reminder of both the innocence of youth and just how wise and observant young eyes can be. I share this with you not to brag, but because it helped me realise just how brilliantly authentic the 7 year old narrative voice of The Green Indian Problem by Jade Leaf Willetts truly is. This is a superbly crafted novel and one that is going to stay with me for a very long time.
Jade – nicknamed Green – is a young boy growing up in Wales and trying to figure out all of the mysteries that life throws at him. Why do adults like eating fish when it feels like devouring baby dinosaurs? Does Father Christmas really exist and, if so, why does he keep bringing the wrong presents? And, most important of all, why does everyone else seem to think he is a girl? Written as a series of diary-like entries charting the life of our hero, the story gives us access into the heart and mind of one very special individual.
For me the real power of this book comes from the contrast between style and content: the simplicity of the child’s language contrasting compellingly with some of the truly adult subject matters portrayed. Green’s mum has a boyfriend who is violent and abusive; his dad sometimes forgets to come and get him when it’s his turn to play parent; grief comes to call more than once as the story unfolds. But above all else I was touched beyond measure by the protagonist’s knowledge that he is in the wrong body and his hope that some adult will help him sort out the mystery of his gender. I subscribe wholeheartedly to the fact that children often know more than we do as adults – when our minds are muddied by social convention and expectation – and the author conveys this startling clarity in such a powerful way.
I really hope that this isn’t a stand alone novel and that we have another chance to meet Green on his journey into adulthood. This is a refreshingly honest, beautifully written and deceptively simple tale that utterly stole my heart. I cannot recommend it enough.