Better title (yep, I’m going there): To Kill a Mockingbird in Australia (So maybe To Kill a Kookaburra?)
Synopsis: Charlie Bucktin’s relatively simple life is turned upside-down when Jasper Jones, resident pariah and bad boy by default, shows up at his window asking for help. Jasper welcomes Charlie into his private glade and reveals a secret that will tear their Australian mining town apart. Charlie wanders through his summer with Jasper’s secret weighing him down. Meanwhile, his overly-cerebral father grows more distant, his mother goes from strict to genuinely mean, his best friend Jeffrey grows steadily more awesome, and he falls in love for the first time.
Is this a “must-read”?: It really, REALLY could have been.
Why?: Jasper Jones is technically good in that it has a message and themes and all that. But the deeper meaning is so close to the surface that a five-year-old could tell you what Craig Silvey is really trying to say. So I guess it’s not really a “deeper” meaning at all, more like a “surface meaning.” As suggested by my “better” title, Silvey was very obviously inspired by To Kill a Mockingbird. It sometimes seemed like he was writing it as TKAM fanfiction with a bunch of major changes and twists, and before he knew it he had a novel, so he decided to go ahead and publish for real.
My main problem was that I got the sense that Silvey was trying too hard. I don’t know what he intended Jasper Jones to be when he started it, but he seems to have been pretty serious about it not deviating from that plan. Sometimes stories get a mind of their own, and you have to let them go a little. This can result in some truly amazing writing. Silvey doesn’t seem to have done that; the result is a 13-year-old narrator whose inner monologue sounds more like a 40-year-old philosophy professor having a midlife crisis. I get that Charlie, Jasper, and everyone else has been through a lot and they've had to grow up pretty fast, but jeez, let these kids think about comic books and girls for a while.
That said, Jasper Jones definitely has its merits. Charlie’s best friend Jeffrey Lu is ten kinds of awesome and I sort of want to adopt him. It does a better job of portraying the realities of bullying than about ten other YA novels I could mention, and there was some really gorgeous imagery that didn’t feel as forced as some other areas. (Keep an eye out for a thoroughly awesome Batman/Superman metaphor). And while Charlie may think like a guy who’s paid to explain Cartesian thinking to burnt-out college students, he acts almost exactly like a kid at the bottom of the social ladder who’s in love for the first time. The ending was pretty great too; it made me smile. So if you want a book that could’ve been completely wonderful if Silvey had just loosened up a little (and if you want to enjoy Jeffrey Lu’s brilliant sense of humor), give Jasper Jones a shot.
Next time: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith
Post by dac213! Catch up on the rest of her series here!