Jasper Jones is set in the fictional rural Western Australia town of Corrigan, amidst a political backdrop of the Vietnam War and significant legislative change in Australia. One night, 13 year old Charlie Bucktin is awoken by a knock on the window from the town's local "thief, liar, thug and truant" - Jasper Jones. Jasper Jones is in fact a local indigenous boy, raised in appalling circumstances and treated as the local scapegoat whenever anything go wrong. Jasper entrusts Charlie with a secret so dark that it eventually leads to a mystery that envelopes the entire town of Corrigan.
I greatly enjoyed Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey. It was a page turner in the true sense of the phrase - I couldn't put it down. My biggest problem with it though, was that I couldn't figure out what genre it was supposed to be. The entire time I was reading the book I was asking myself "is this adult or young adult fiction?" I found myself so bothered by the fact that I couldn't figure it out that it became quite distracting. I know that it shouldn't make a difference what the genre is, so long as the reader enjoys the book (which I did). And yet, I couldn't shake off this overall feeling of confusion whilst I was reading the book that slightly hampered by enjoyment of it.
I think ultimately, this would have to be characterised as a book for young adults.
I appreciated that the book dealt with very real and important issues such as racial discrimination, prejudice, war and sexual assault. The opening scene were shockingly graphic (for a young adult book) and the final explanation of Jasper's shocking discovery is extremely confronting to say the least.
Silvey has written the book as a first person narrative from 13 year old Charlie Bucktin's perspective and for the most part his dialogue and inner monologue were authentic. I enjoyed the childish male banter between Charlie and his Vietnamese best friend Jeffrey Lu. It was short and sharp and funny and probably very much like what I imagine 13 year old boys would talk about.
At times though, I thought that the authenticity was lost a little. Silvey sometimes forces the childishness upon you, particularly the way in which Charlie and Jeffrey call each other names. Authenticity was also sometimes compromised when Charlie began to analyse the world and people around him; 13 year olds do not have the vocabulary and critical analysis skills that Charlie sometimes displays.
As far as a book for young readers goes, it dealt very effectively with the themes that it raises. Silvey deals with the daily reality of racism in the way that he writes about Jasper's beatings at the hands of the police, the destruction of the Lu family's garden in response to the Vietnamese War and the way in which Jeffrey courageously deals with the racial taunts he suffers at the hands of his teammates.
Issues of physical and sexual abuse and alcoholism are also honestly but sensitively raised.
I would almost be tempted to say that it is almost like an Australian young adult version of To Kill A Mockingbird. Those big issues such as a racism and prejudice are examined through the eyes of a child experiencing a microcosm of these issues in their own daily lives.
It was heartwarming to watch Charlie come to terms with his own personal reality - in this way Jasper Jones is certainly a coming of age story. As the book progresses we see Charlie struggle to understand his parents and their relationship and come to terms with the existence of prejudice and racism but also make friends and get some "sassytime" as Jeffrey so comically phrases it.
Despite the inconsistencies in the authenticity of Charlie's narrative voice, I greatly admired this book for its honest and funny portrayal of serious issues.
Although I found my personal confusion regarding the book's genre somewhat distracting, I would recommend this book as a great Australian read, especially for young adults.
What kind of read is this?
Ostensibly an easy read, but it does take longer to finsih than you might expect. A comic and heartwarming consideration of important issues.
Do I recommend this book?
Yes, especially for young adult readers.
Do I recommend that you buy this book?
Strangely enough, I do. There is something compelling about owning this book.. but I can't put my finger on what it is.