Interestingly, Jasper Jones is the first book by an Australian author that I have read. The funny part is, I had no idea Craig Silvey was from Australia. As I cracked the book open, I noticed that some of the words were odd. And the dialect of the characters didn’t look phonetically like anything from the U.S. So finding out he was Australian made a lot of sense. Once I established the language bit, I appreciated the story and the setting. The only exception was his description of the cricket games. I have no idea what a tackler, bowler, wicket, and crease all have to do with cricket. But I guess that’s what many countries think about American football.
Back to the book, Silvey drafts a story that is universal; it’s set in Australia but relatable to all of us. Jasper Jones is the outcast of the small, rural town. It’s not by choice but by situation. His mother died when he was an infant and his father is a drunk. Being beaten at home and having to scrounge his food makes him a pariah of the community. When he finds himself in trouble, he turns to Charles (Charlie to his friends), who is the egghead of the high school. Charlie has his own drama with a reserved father and an aggressive mother who wishes she were living somewhere else.
Together, the two of them attempt to figure the trouble they encounter and, while making teenage mistakes along the way, they learn that they need each other and the help of others who are involved in the ordeal. Really it boils down to the idea that no man is an island. And while Jasper’s and Charlie’s destinies aren’t on the same path, they learn a lot about life and friendship over their intense summer.
Silvey does an incredible job developing his characters and brilliantly painting the small town life. He has a way of drawing me in and showing me rather than telling me what life is like. I feel more like I’m watching a movie rather than reading. My one critique is that I wish he would have been more clear on his ending and wrapped up some of the other plot points. He touches on the racism towards Vietnamese Australians during the Vietnam War, but doesn’t really flesh it out. Granted, it is a sub plot, but I like depth rather than breadth when it comes to plot. And I feel like there’s more to the story than we are shown, but maybe that’s what will get me to reread the book some day.
All in all is a great, universal story about love, loss, and growing up that extends to all of us from the Land Down Under.