Their 42

Zadie Smith on a section of Glenard Oak school, in London: “This concave section of wall, depending where you stood, provided low teacher-visibility for smokers too young to smoke in the smoker's garden (a concrete garden for those who had reached sixteen and were allowed to smoke themselves silly—are there any schools like this anymore?). The drama hollow was to be avoided. These were hard little bastards, twelve-, thirteen-year old chain-smokers; they didn't give a shit. They really didn't give a shit—your health, their health, teachers, parents, police—whatever. Smoking was their answer to the universe, their 42, their raison d'être. They were passionate about fags. Not connoisseurs, not fussy about brand, just fags, any fags. They pulled at them like babies at teats, and when they were finally finished their eyes were wet as they ground the butts into the mud. They fucking loved it. Fags, fags, fags. Their only interest outside fags was politics, or more precisely, this fucker, the chancellor, who kept putting up the price of fags. Because there was never enough money and there was never enough fags. You had to become an expert in bumming, cadging, begging, stealing fags. A popular ply was to blow a week's pocket money on twenty, give them out to all and sundry, and spend the next month reminding those with fags about that time you gave them a fag. But this was a high-risk policy. Better to have an utterly forgettable face, better to be able to cadge a fag and come back five minutes after for another without being remembered.”

I'm about 2/3 done White Teeth after seeing the second half on late night CBC. So I already know how it ends, or at least how the made-for-TV version of it ends, but this is already one of my favourite books, and the above quote, taken from a longer paragraph about the smokers in Irie's, Millat's and Joshua's school is a fantastic example of the humour and allusion (in this case, to Douglas Adams) and repetition Smith uses effectively in the book. The main topics are very serious: that is, Irie's mixed race, about immigrants trying to feel comfortable in their adopted land (there's a really great section near this one about English given names on a “collision course” with their parents' non-English family names), but also sex, between teenagers and between consenting adults, even if one of those adults could be another adult's parent. The section on masturbation is ... handled very well.