Saturday, January 26, 2013

Review: Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

Imagine you are peacefully reading in your bed on a hot summer night when someone shouts your name through the open window next to you. Charlie is greeted by Jasper Jones, a fellow classmate and known troublemaker, in such a manner. Jasper pleads with Charlie for his help with a terrible situation, an experience which plunges Charlie from childhood to adulthood.

It took me awhile to realize the novel was not set in present times. I used the novel for a book discussion with teens and none of them quite realized that Jasper Jones is set during the Vietnam War. The war is mostly in the background but it ignites the already smoldering racism in Charlie's town.

Silvey vividly describes of the Australian bush as Charlie and Jasper romp around looking for answers. Everything in the novel felt intense. The opening scene (whoa!), the summer heat, the abundant growth -- Silvey writes with an intensity that reflects what being a teenager is like as they experience their “first” this and that.

The allusions to classic literature were fun but totally lost on my teen readers. Being a fan of both the movie and book versions of Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, I enjoyed Eliza’s character who mimics Holly Golightly by frequently quoting her. There are great references to To  Kill a Mockingbird and other texts which might be considered “southern gothic” which is the feel of Jasper Jones.

Silvey’s writing is definitely literary, taking its time to develop the characters, and the plot moved at what felt like a snails pace. The novel was a hundred pages too long and many of my teens just couldn’t finish it even though they liked the story. This is definitely a thumbs up and a good read but be prepared for less of a suspenseful thriller (as the opening scene suggests) and more of a contemplation of growing up and becoming an adult.

Publisher: Ember, 2012    Pages: 320
Rating: 3 Stars        Source: purchased copy