Review – Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

 

I seem to be getting an Australian vibe recently in my reading (Sonya Hartnett) and now Jasper Jones which also gains brownie points from me for being a coming of age tale with an interesting, intelligent child narrator.

Jasper Jones is a mixed race teen who lives on the outskirts of town and of society too.  The novel is less concerned with Jasper though and focuses more on Charlie Bucktin, a young teen who, thanks to Jasper, becomes embroiled in a plot to cover up a young girl’s disappearance and murder in order to discover who the culprit was.  The boys are in Catch 22 territory as any disclosure of information could lead to suspicion immediately falling on Jasper whose colour marks him out as Public Enemy No One in the predominantly white town of Corrigan.

This novel is a joy to read and the young male characters literally jump of the page they are so vividly portrayed with all their verbal fencing and fierce loyalty to each other.  It’s at times reminiscent of the film Stand By Me and really very moving amid all the slapstick humour.  The topic of racism is further developed in the character of Jeffrey Lu, Charlie’s best buddy who bears the brunt of overt racism from his class mates – he is Vietnamese and this is 1965 when some local men are off fighting in the war so not the best place for Jeffrey to be growing up.  I loved Jeffrey and his irrepressible optimism and sense of humour which save him from bitterness.  The highlight of the book for me is a cricket match in which the locals reluctantly allow Jeffrey to take part – I don’t understand anything about cricket but it doesn’t take an expert to feel Jeffrey’s joy at being even temporarily accepted.  Equally Charlie is estranged from his other school mates due to his bookishness and complete and utter lack of sporting ability (Hey, I can truly empathise with this kid!)

Jasper Jones may be set in Western Australia but the themes of acceptance, childhood friendship, family relationships are universal.  It’s a relatively short, very readable book but it has so many different threads – echoes of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird with Charlie’s father being directly compared with Atticus Finch although he’s more into literature than the law.  I think if you have a brother, a son or can even summon up the slightest memory of what it was like trying  to be a kid fitting in and finding your place in the world, you will really enjoy this story.  If you are offended by the occasional swear word (yes, horror of horrors, boys swear when they’re away from their parents.. ;-)) you’d probably be better to avoid it.

I’ll leave you with an example of Charlie and Jeffrey’s delightful banter -

” I feel like an icy cold beer” he says.
“What? Why?”
“I don’t know.  It always looks so refreshing. I wishhhh to be refreshhhhed by an icy cold beer”
” But you’ve never had beer!”
“So?”
“So, how can you feel like something you’ve never tasted?”
“You never kissed Eliza Wishart before but you still wished to do that. ”
I roll my eyes at him.
“That’s a lot different to a beer”.
“Telling me.  A  beer is farrr superior.  You don’t have to sit around holding its hand and saying nice things about its hair”.

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8 Comments

  1. Stujallen says:

    this seems popular with everyone thats read ,i ve not read it yet ,stu

  2. admin says:

    Oh, I think you’d reallty like it, Stu. I loved how unpretentious it was – makes a nice change from self-obsessed literary novels… ;-)

    ps do you still want those Kimberley biccies??? I need your contact details…

  3. Iris says:

    I have heard a few things about this through twitter, yours is the first review I’ve read of the book and I have to admit that it sounds lovely.

  4. Violet says:

    I read Silvey’s first novel, Rhubarb, which I liked a lot. I think it would be right up your street too. Have JJ in TBR pile, but have not got round to it yet. I like the “heat” to go off a book before I read it, so that I’m not influenced by reviews, good or bad. If that makes any sense. :)

  5. Violet says:

    I just saw that you have Taste of Sorrow in your TBR montage. I adored it almost as much as Morgans’ Passion, which is about the Romantic poets. His fictional depiction of Byron and Shelley are very close to how I imagine them myself. Taste of Sorrow shines a light of a slightly different hue on the Brontes. Really enjoyed it.

  6. admin says:

    I’m a big fan of coming of age tales and this one has just enough quirkiness to make it that little bit different from the normal story. He really captures the spirit of the young boys trying to find their place in the world.

  7. admin says:

    Yes, I understand that “heat evaporation” concept very well, Violet! Too much hype can be a very bad thing. I must look out for Rhubarb. Thank you for the recommendation. :-)

  8. kimbofo says:

    Glad you enjoyed this one… I wasn’t convinced by it.

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