Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey; a great Australian read

Reading Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey has introduced me to a great new Australian writer that I am looking forward to reading more of.

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.

Summary

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.




Star Rating

6.5 / 8


Really enjoyable, couldn't put it down. I would recommend it.



Has anyone else read Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey? I would love to know what you thought.
I would also like to know whether you think that it is imporant that young adult readers are exposed to confronting but real life social issues such as racism and sexual abuse?


POSTSCRIPT: After writing the following sentence in my review "I would almost be tempted to say that it is almost like an Australian young adult version of To Kill A Mockingbird" I realised that something very similar was printed on the front cover of the book. I would just like to say that I am not copying the reviewer who is responsible for the comment on the front cover. I did actually think that to myself before reading it on the book.

Literary fiction can provide a rewarding challenge

Literary Blog Hop
Literary fiction is too difficult to try, right? Wrong.

Firstly, what is it? I cannot define it. You will read everywhere the same thing: literary fiction is difficult to define but it is generally accepted as literature with unique content and aesthetic merit.  I agree with this, but I can't help but feel there is something more to it.. something deeper that I can't get a grasp on. That definition is too easy - it doesn't really get at the commone essence of literary fiction.

So I will stop attempting to define it and get on with explaining what I like about it.

I acknowledge that literary fiction is more challenging than other forms of fiction, such as popular fiction or young adult. Having said that, my experience is this - some literary fiction is easy to read (Margaret Atwood for example) and some is more challenging (Salman Rushdie comes to mind).


That is on of the things that I love about literary fiction - the challenge. I get true satisfaction reading books that are written in unique and challenging language. I like that I have to work a bit harder for the ultimate reward.

You might have noticed a theme here - I don't like to think of literary fiction as difficult - rather as providing a rewarding challenge.

The question today is this - what piece of literary fiction have you found most difficult or challenging to read and why?


My answer would have to be Tess of the D'Urberville's by Thomas Hardy.



This is by far the most challenging book that I have ever read - the reason being Hardy's language. This book is not only literary; it is also a classic. The challenges posed by both genre's combined really put me to the test in this one. I felt like I had to beat my way through the dense and old-fashioned language to find the story, and I am afraid that I was not very successful. At times I felt as though I barely understood what I was reading. 

The other barrier was my dislike of the main character, Tess D'Urberville. Normally I am able to keep at bay my own dislike of particular characters by justifying their behaviour in terms of the time in which the book is set or the characters cultural background. As much as I tried to justify Tess's own behaviour in this book with reference to the historical period and her class and sex - but I just couldn't. She was such a sap. I wanted to see strength when I saw weakness and sense when I saw silliness.

In my own defence, I attempted to read this one while I was in high school, and perhaps if I were to read it as an adult I might find it a little less challenging than I did the first time around.

There are some literary authors that I expected to find exceedingly difficult to read and was pleasantly surprised when I didn't find them half as intimidating as I expected - Franz Kafka being one example. 

If this is the sort of discussion that you enjoy you might want to check out my post: Have you ever really enjoyed a book by an author you were too intimidated to try?


Thanks for stopping by Page Turners and reading my rambles on my favourite genre.


Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre; a Man Booker Prize winner


Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre is dark, it's gritty, it's modern and yet... it wasn't for me.

The book is described as "A 21st-century comedy in the presence of death". It is supposed to be a comedy, a satire of modern American life and it was at times deliciously wicked in that sense.

The book is written from the perspective of the protagonist, Vernon Little, who is accused of taking part in a school shooting with his Mexican friend Jesus Navarro. He finds himself caught in the legal system, desperately seeking to have his own story heard.

Vernon Little is a strong character; he sees all the injustices of the world through a teenagers eyes, watching all the ridiculousness of the world conspire against him but unable to do anything about it. Instead he is forced to escape to Mexico where he finds that he is ultimately unable to avoid the traps that life has set for him.

This books takes aim at many aspects of contemporary society; consumerism, materialism, opportunism, modern media hype, the legal system, the health system. It paints the picture of a world where people are willing to put themselves above all else, at great risk to others. It is these aspects of society that Pierre plays upon, showing us the worst side of ourselves by making fun of contemporary society and human relationships.

Objectively, I was able to greatly admire the DBC Pierre's writing - the use of Vernon's first person narrative voice was colloquial to say the least and I found the shock value that this added to the story was effective. I do think though, that at times the narrative voice wasn't true to a teenage boy. Despite the often crude language and colloquial tone, it was sometimes just a little too thoughtful and insightful to be the voice of someone of that age. I can't quite imagine a teenage boy, even one in Vernon's position, being able to analyse the world around him in quite the way that Vernon does.

I have to admit that although objectively I could see where the author was going with the satire and the comedy, it fell short for me. I didn't find it funny or humorous. In fact I found it dark and depressing.

More than that, I found that it didn't grab my attention in the way that I would have liked. I enjoyed the flaws of the characters and I enjoyed Pierre's piercing writing, but the story didn't move me enough to excite any great feeling. Some parts of the book I found myself skimming through, just flipping the pages until something caught my attention. When I stopped and delved back in to the book properly, despite having ostensibly missed some of the story, I was still able to pick it up again wherever I landed. The story just seemed to move along at a slower pace than I would have liked, with little happening to move the story along.

I did find myself becoming very emotional toward the end, which is a sign of a good book - but at the same time the book came to an end so suddenly with such a major twist that I felt a little bit cheated. I didn't have that emotional release - that chance to sigh and get used to the end of the story. I wanted to feel better but I was left with a lingering sense of malcontent in relation to the lead up to the end.

Perhaps all these things are what DBC Pierre intended me to feel at the end of Vernon God Little and perhaps not. Either way, although I admire the book objectively - it isn't a book that sat well with me at all.

Summary

What kind of read is this?
Great writing and challenging content.

Do I recommend this book?
I want to recommend it because I know it is a well written and meaningful book, but I just can't. I just didn't appreciate it on an emotional level, and that is what counts for me.

Do I recommend that you buy this book?
No.


Star Rating

5 / 8


Worth reading if you have the opportunity, but there's no need to prioritise it.




 Have you read Vernon God Little? I would be interested to know if people did find that they were drawn into the story and what it was that grabbed you and pulled you in. I feel as though I am missing out on something but I am not sure what.