I am a huge fan of this Australian novel which has influences from Mark Twain and ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. There are references to both in the book since the main character, Charlie Bucktin, is a book loving boy. I used to love reading when I was young and finding stories where the characters got lost in books made me feel less odd. It is still the case that I love coming across stories where the protagonist shares my interests.
Charlie is aware that his preference for reading marks him out as different and his best friend, the Vietnamese Jeffrey, is a fellow outsider. This is the 60s and the Vietnam War has aroused strong feelings in the community; Australia was a participant alongside USA even though Britain was not! Even more of an outsider, though, is Jasper Jones the mixed race boy who is shunned by the people of the town because of his family history.
When a serious incident takes place, Jasper is convinced he will be the scapegoat and he seeks the help of Charlie since he reads books and thinks things through. Charlie is surprised at the approach but decides to help. This involves him in both keeping and discovering secrets. Small towns are full of under the surface feelings and the novel cleverly shows how prejudice blinds people to the truth. Themes of identity, race, community and fitting in are all covered by the excellent Craig Silvey.
I think this novel has the best description of a cricket game that I have ever read and the banter between Charlie and his friend Jeffrey is priceless. There are many comedy moments but they serve to make the hostility of some of the other actions more shocking. The links with Mark Twain and with Harper Lee’s novel are deliberate and they enhance the status of this book.
‘Jasper Jones’ by Craig Silvey is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?