Jasper Jones: By Craig Silvey
Reviewed by Claire Williams (Flourish Magazine)
Jasper Jones is set in the 1960s, in fictional Corrigan, a small-minded country town. The narrator is Charlie Bucktin, a bookish teenager who is in a sticky situation. He has become involved in the disposal of a murdered young woman, after Jasper Jones – a misunderstood Indigenous teen – enlisted his help. Corrigan is jolted by the disappearance of Laura Wishart, with a climate of fear and mistrust as thick as the summer heat Charlie constantly complains about.
Silvey’s first-person narration is well suited to the coming-of-age themes. It’s a combination of the childish honesty of Scout Finch and the teen angst of Holden Caulfield that gives the novel such a powerful voice. Silvey writes with a kind of bravado that’ll have you gripped. There are sections so tightly plotted you’ll be turning the pages with feverish anticipation, constantly asking: Who killed Laura Wishart?
Beyond the exciting plot details, Jasper Jones is a novel about fear. The novel’s three central characters, Jasper, Charlie, and his best-friend Jeffrey Lu, a Vietnamese immigrant, are all feared for their difference. It’s Charlie’s brains and books in a town of miners and tradespeople, Jasper’s Aboriginality and Jeffrey’s Asian heritage that make Corrigan nervous. The racism that Jasper and Jeffrey experience is enough to make your chest hurt and your eyes sting.
Jasper Jones is worthy of a place on your bookshelf because of its broad appeal. Parents and their teenagers will delight in the nervous trials of Charlie’s romantic escapades, feel outraged by Charlie’s tough, tempestuous mother, and be touched by the gorgeous friendship between Charlie and Jeffrey.