Jasper Jones is an Australian outback novel by Craig Silvey, that follows the life of 13 year old Charlie Bucktin during the summer that changed his life…duh duh duh.
Not really. Well yes, but not that last bit. Set in 1965, Charlie is up reading late one night (it’s too hot to sleep) when he hears a tap on his window; it’s Jasper Jones, the half-aboriginal, half-white town teen outcast, who needs his help. After excitedly agreeing, despite not knowing him at all, Charlie follows Jasper into the Australian bush in the middle of the night where he finds a shocking discovery…
Laura Wishart’s body, dangling from a tree (don’t worry, this happens in the first ten or so pages so I’m not really giving anything away). And Jasper Jones needs Charlie to help him hide the body, so they can find who killed her before the police arrest Jasper.
Chuck in a best friend who can’t catch a break, a family that’s falling apart, a budding romance between Charlie and Laura’s sister, Eliza (problematic), and you get a book that is poignant, truthful and, at the heart of it, actually Australian.
There are many, many aspects of this book that are great. First off, it tries to send messages to its reader, without coming across preachy at all.
It’s a story about growing up. Charlie is 13, picked on at school, underwhelmed by his inability to grow. Bullies, hormones and finally finding the opposite sex attractive? It’s something most of us have gone through. Unfortunately for Charlie, it’s also the Summer that he learns about the ugly side of the world, and what people can do to each other.
It’s a story that emphasises the problems with racism, and while it was set in 1965, it is still an issue today. While Americans were cruel and heartless to African-Americans, in Australia unfortunately for many, Aboriginals were the equivalent. Another race issue that Silvey addresses was the way that Vietnamese immigrants were treated in the 1960s, largely due to the Vietnamese war that was occurring at the time. Sadly, we’d like to think we’ve evolved, but considering the continual debate concerning “boat people”, it clearly isn’t the case (another reason to read this book).
And, despite all the terrible events that happen in this book, it’s a story about first love, the steps that we take, the dreams that we have…and of course, what it feels like to kiss someone for the first time *giggle*
This is a book I’d highly recommend. It’s honest, witty, and accurately displays the mind of a 13 year old. Silvey portrays Charlie, the bookish, awkward teenager perfectly, particularly with his use of popular literature references; from Atticus Finch to Mark Twain.
Also, personal favourite in the book is the discussion that Charlie has with his best friend over who is more courageous, Superman or Batman. Charlie ends up winning with the strong argument that Batman, unlike Superman, isn’t invincible, but human like you or I. Yet despite this, he continues to fight evil, which, therefore makes him the most courageous superhero of all.
Which really, says a lot about what type of story this is, and what type of protagonist Charlie turns out to be.
If you like stories about the Australian outback that are accurate, from the mosquitos and hot, sleepness nights, to the town excitement over a cricket match, then this is the book for you. And if not, well…still give it a try won’t you?
Have you read Jasper Jones, or any other books by Craig Silvey? Let me know!