by Craig Silvey
New York: Alfred A. Knopf
Thirteen-year-old Charlie Bucktin is sick of his small Australian town and looking forward to spend his summer writing and hanging out with his best friend. However, the moment he awakens from a midnight knock on his window and opens it to find the local teenage pariah Jasper Jones seeking his help, his plans and life derail. Charlie, not wanting to seem immature, agrees and climbs of out the window into the night. In doing so, he becomes privy to Jasper's horrible discovery: a body hanging from a giant hollow eucalyptis in the isolated grove that Jasper hides in when his alcoholic father gets to be too much. To protect Jasper from taking the blame for a crime he did not commit, the boys hide the body, vowing to find the killer on their own. Holding onto this unspeakable knowledge, Charlie is catapulted too soon into adulthood in a town filled with fear, racism, and finger pointing, experiencing first love and the agony of both keeping secret this terrible and unraveling a few more in the process. This timeless coming of age tale is haunting, and charged with emotion, humor, and the unbearable sadness of growing up and away your own childhood. Skillfully written, this novel often operates from very nostalgic, almost adult voice, and is strongly recommended to teens grades 9-12 who will best understand this way of thinking.
Book Talk Hook: Summarize the sitch. Then ask what they would do. If you have AV capabilities (are we still calling it that?), show the below book trailer to do the dirty for you.
Okay, peoples. Maybe it is the fear of imminent death due to everything being poisonous that prompts Aussie authors of YA to write like every book is their last, best, book. Maybe there is something in the Australian water. I like the first explanation best. Irregardless. I know I rave about it a bit, but the YA coming out of Australia is just so. so. good. you. guys. Jasper Jones, by Craig Silvey is no exception to this rule. But enough with my Aussieloveparade. I also think that the book trailer for this movie is one of the best, if not the best I've ever seen:
This book. Is seriously fantastic. After moping my way through Monsters of Men being horribly overlooked for American awards this past year, I don't know if I'll be able to contain my rage if this one doesn't get any nods stateside. Seriously. Let me tell you all the reasons I scribbled down illedgibly on a post-it while reading it to remember exactly what captivated me about it:
- This book, or really, Craig Silvey author-man, toys and plays with language in a way that many teen authors fail to do. He uses rich description and gives a teen reader the chance to use their brain. Snaps! Guess what book I'm sneaking onto my summer reading list next year?
- The character arc that Charlie goes through from childhood to teenage/adulthood is so profound, yet so grounded in reality. Yes, this horrible thing he witnesses is not the norm. But it's not unthinkable, nor is experiencing death at a young age. Nor is the all the hatred and fear in his town, nor is realizing that these bad feelings exist, nor are his reactions to his parents, his hormones, his morality, or his loyalty. Reality!
- No spoilers will be given, but just know that this book is not what you expect when you start reading. Simple murder mystery it is not. It is so much more complicated. And so worth your time.
- Again - the narrative voice is saturated with nostalgia. I love that Silvey trusts that his teen readers will get this, that though they may not fully feel the same aching nostalgia for the childhoods they are wriggling their own way out of, they can truly sympathize with the pain, humor, and shocks of growing up.
- I love this line of Jasper's right before he takes Charlie into the grove. It's got such a double meaning; it almost feels as though Jasper is addressing the reader too:
"You'll see it, Charlie. Shit. You'll've wished you dint, but you'll see it. It's not too late but. Are you sure you're going to help me?" (9)I mean. DAYUM. You just know that what is about to transpire is such an awful, adult-making moment, point of no return. In the pit of your stomach, you just know that it's not okay. This book has such a pervasive sense of foreboding, much in the way 13 Reasons Why does, but obviously for a very different, less vindictive, mystery of who killed this person reason. What a terrible task, to hide a body, and horrible too-soon adult reasoning to realize that you have to hide it in order to save someone because your town will blindly and unfairly persecute it's scapegoat just for closure. Double DAYUM.
- Sure, there is death. And mystery. And it is a hot, oh-so-hot summer. And all sorts of stuff is unraveling at the seams. And I'm not 100% sure why, but this book is haunting in a way that books like To Kill A Mockingbird are. They really just touch something in your heart, probably because we all have to grow up in one way or another, and it's never a pretty or easy or painless transition from childhood to adulthood. Or something.
- There is ANOTHER Chairman Meow! Just like in Jellicoe Road! And also a Chairman Wow, a parakeet! Whatever, I was excited about there being two Chairman Meow's in two Aussie YA's that I love.
- Jeffery Lu and Charlie's four page banter/fight about superheros on page 52 is so so so amusing. Also, so so so very true to what I overhear coming from freshman boys allll the damn time. Additonally, I found Charlie's explanation of why Batman is better than Superman incredibly apropos to this whole story:
"My point is this: the more you have to lose, the braver you are for standing up." (45)Touche!
- Remember how in my review that I said this story was timeless? I didn't realize until page 80 that it was set in Vietnam War era Australia. Which is very important to the story thereafter in terms of understanding the racism, but still. It's lovely to read a book where the characters are not plugged in an not even notice. Sidebar: after this and The Pipers Son, now I want to know more about Australia in Vietnam. Since it's really not something we cover in US History...
- Jasper's speech about his life breaks my heart a little, and may become my new power chant when a crappy day is all up in my face:
I don't need to trick meself into thinkin anyone else is listenin, or even cares. Because it doesn't matter. I matter. And I know I'll be all right. Because I got a good hear, and fuck this town for makin me try to believe otherwise. It's what you come with and what you leave with. And that's all I got." (154)I just want to give him a hug.
- Just know this book is excellent.
- The character Jasper here redeems the use of the name Jasper for a very ridiculous character in the Twilight franchise. Just sayin'...
- I may start asking myself What Would Jeffrey Lu Do? If he was a real kid, I would start a secret fan club. Maybe try to adopt him. Is that creepy? Whatever.
- Double is it wrong that I was delighted by the evil genius of Charlie's mom's somewhat unjustified hole digging punishment? Guess what my unborn teenagers will be doing if they ever get arrested?
- I could go on for days. But that would be overkill. Also, I spilled water on my post-it. Just read the book.
- The cover. Hot snap. Is it not hauntingly beautiful (much like the book)? I want a secret giant tree! Sorry Australia, think we got the better cover.
- My only quibble: I don't get cricket. I think I need a crash course in cricket rules. And an explanation on why white is the choice of color for uniforms. Don't they play on dirt? Don't they get dirty? Wouldn't any other color be a better idea?
- PS. Craig Silvey? Kind of easy on the eyes. Also, in a band. Printz award committee, take notice. You know you ladies want to have a long leisurely winner dinner with him!