Review Blog

Feb 15 2017

Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

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Film tie-in edition. Allen and Unwin, 2016. ISBN 9781760295929
(Age: 14+) Highly recommended. With the imminent release of Rachel Perkin's latest film Jasper Jones it seemed a good time to read Craig Silvey's novel, winner of the Indie Book of the Year 2009, ABIA Book of the Year 2010, and shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literature Award 2010.
Dubbed Australia's To kill a mockingbird, it does share many of the themes of that novel - a child trying to solve the mysteries of the adult world, the restrained father figure, the feared outcast in the shadowy house, the narrow-minded attitudes of a small country town, entrenched racism and bigotry. But Silvey's book is most definitely Australian, set in a small country town around the time of the Vietnam War. The narrator is 13 year-old Charlie Bucktin, a bookish boy sidelined at school and friends with Vietnamese Jeffrey Lu, struggling against vicious bullying. Jasper Jones of the title is the Aboriginal boy, most despised of all, shunned and distrusted, and immediate suspect for any crime. It is Jasper Jones, that late one night, draws Charlie into a terrible secret . . .
The story immediately draws in the reader and becomes impossible to put down. It is not only the mystery and suspense that keeps the reader going, a highlight is the bizarre humour with which Charlie and Jeffrey grapple with ideas and moral dilemmas. The teenage conversation is so real and very funny, particularly their discussion of superheroes and why Batman is the bravest of them all.
The trust between the central characters is so precious, I became scared as I read along that human frailty was going to lead to some terrible betrayal, but it is not the young friends who are weak, it is the adults who are at the root of all evil. It is this idea of evil and cruelty that he sees in newspaper stories and which he witnesses in his own hometown, that confronts and challenges Charlie - can he be a witness, an observer, and be true to his friends and to himself? When is silence complicit and when do you have to take a stand?
Jasper Jones is a great novel for teenagers and adults alike, and a must for studies of Australian fiction.
Helen Eddy

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