Jasper Jones, Craig Silvey’s latest young adult novel, charts the journey of a teenage boy losing the naivety of his youth as he discovers the world around him, and especially the people, don’t fall into the neat frames he has created for each one. This is a definitely a book about growing up, but Charlie, the protagonist, is forced into maturity when confronted with the death (murder? suicide?) of Laura, the teenage daughter of a leading town politician.
This book is a bit of an enigma to me. The book is beautifully written and tells a captivating, if devastating story, but it seems to build on its own foundation in weird ways and at odd intervals. There were times where I thought I had a feel for the setting and characters, only to have the world I created in my head shattered by a new piece of background information. For example, I was probably a third of the way into the book before I realized that it was set in the 1960’s, while the Vietnam War was raging in Southeast Asia. The fact that it is set in Australia also probably should have been apparent to me soon, but a name like Corrigan just drew to mind an English town, rather than one on the other side of the world. These two facts combined, once they were clear to me, fashioned an entirely different landscape than I had previously imagined. (It’s the difference between rainy, overcast days versus sunshine and heat or trails made by rabbits and rodents versus those created by kangaroos and wallabies.)
Once I had the setting straight I my mind, it was the plot that took a bit of mind-warping reconciliation. When Charlie is asked to help bury a dead girl at the bottom of a lake, he does so without hesitation, but then must keep the events of the evening a secret, as he continues on with his summer holiday. This foundation is horrifying, and yet it leads to a story even more devastating. The deceased is already gone, so while the actions are awful, they don’t change her fate. Instead, other fates are revealed as Charlie and Jasper go in search of her murderer. The weeks following Laura’s death reveal new relationships, as well as see the destruction of existing ones.
But what are the characters doing when they are not deeply involved in the mystery of Laura’s death? Cricket. Lots and lots of cricket. This game of Down Under is one that baffles me. There are wickets and bats and runs and bowls and all sorts of doodads that are foreign to any sports understanding I may hold. While this made a great addition to the Australian setting, it was an aspect of the book I found hard to follow. (This is especially true when it came to the climactic game where Charlie’s best friend finally gets his shot and cricket stardom, which is narrated, in detail, along the course of several pages.)
For a tale based upon death and the subsequent destruction that plays out in the tragedy’s aftermath, I have to say that this is a really good book. It feels strange to like something so much, when the basis of it is so dark, but as the characters come alive throughout the story, I can’t help but feel their pain as the rose colored glasses of childhood are removed and they discover that the world isn’t quite as kind as they had once believed. Craig Silvey’s Jasper Jones , a powerful young adult novel aimed at mature teens, that takes a powerful look at growing up, tough choices and the inevitable consequences of those decisions, earns: