2012 Printz Award Honor book Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey is the story of what happens in the summer of 1965 in a small town in rural Australia. Young Charlie Bucktin is smart, clever, and rather friendless, as he is town bully’s main object of attention. Charlie dreams of whisking the beautiful Eliza Wishart off to New York City, of writing the next great American novel, and of not holding in the secret that Jasper Jones, the town misfit, imposed onto him.
Jasper, terrified that he would be framed for the murder of an adored teenaged girl, solicited the assistance of the town mouse (Charlie) in hiding the body then finding the killer. The secret and the search nearly break Charlie down, but his growth, slow and gradual throughout the novel, finally culminates with surprising strength and courage.
I adored the character of Charlie, and could totally relate to him. For how hilarious, witty, and intelligent he was during conversations with his best friend, the Vietnamese immigrant Jeffrey, he was just as quiet and meek around everyone else. His courage grew from just thinking the retaliatory thought to actually speaking – or shouting or demanding – the retort. I grew to respect Charlie.
I will recommend this book to teens who don’t try to speed-read through a book. This is a very intricately-written story, and skipping even one sentence could mean missing a key plot element. I find this to be a typical characteristic of Australian authors. As my coworker put it, ‘Australian authors expect more of their readers,” and I like that. There is no fluff in this entire 310 pages of this book. Please allow me to share with you a few lines worth sharing. Sorry for the length, this first one is just too awesome:
*During Charlie’s first nighttime excursion with Jasper, he smokes his first cigarette: “I take a small incendiary pull. Of course, it attacks my mouth and burns down the length of my throat. I gag immediately….This shit is poison. And I realize I’ve been betrayed by the two vices that fiction promised me I’d adore. Sal Paradise held up bottles of booze like a housewife in a detergent commercial. Holden Caulfield reached for his cigarettes like an act of faith. Even Huckleberry Finn tapped his pipe with relief and satisfaction. I can’t trust anything. If sex turns out to be this bad, I’m never reading again,” p.35
*During Charlie’s bout of restriction/grounding (whatever you call it…): “Mostly, I spent time writing. Almost obsessively. Every day and ever night. it’s the thing that gave me company. Along with reading. It’s what got me out of the house without them being able to stop me at the door.” p.169
*While bantering with his bff Jeffrey, the second wittiest character in the novel/I’ve ever read: “Jeffrey, all due respect, but a strike like that wouldn’t even cause noticeable discomfort to a newborn rabbit with some kind of brittle-bone disease.” p.219
*While learning how to live in the ‘after’: Cooking is conducting, knowing when each piece comes in and how strong. it’s all about timing.” p.29i
*Oh, and I have serious beef with the alternative cover to this book. Check it out: Okay, there is no way the kid on this cover is the nerdy, friendless Charlie Bucktin. This is the Jonas-Brother-look-alike kid that all the girls in school would fawn over. So…false advertising, publisher. It’s like putting a rosy-cheeked cherub on the cover of the Saw movies. Lies.