‘What? What is?’
‘You’ll see it, Charlie. Shit. You’ll’ve wished you dint, but you’ll see it. it’s not too late but. Are you sure you’re gonna help me?’
‘Can’t you just tell me? What is it? What’s through there?’
‘I can’t. I can’t, mate. But I can trust you, Charlie. I reckon I can trust you.’
It isn’t a question, but it seems like one.
And I believe if I were anyone else, I would choose to step back and turn away right now…I would never look past Jasper Jones to reveal his secret.”
Jasper Jones is Corrigan’s Troubled Boy: alternately beaten and neglected by his alcoholic father, notorious for petty theft and truancy. Charlie is bright, uncoordinated, and not-so-popular; he and Jasper occupy opposite ends of the social universe. So when Jasper shows up at Charlie’s window in the middle of the night, Charlie is stunned enough to follow him into the woods without question. Jasper needs Charlie’s help, and what he shows him in the forest will change everything. In that hot summer, right in the middle of the Vietnam War, Jasper’s secret becomes Charlie’s secret.
As the summer progresses, the two try to conceal what they know as the town reels in shock. The tragedy exposes Corrigan’s ugly underbelly; racial tension reaches a fever pitch and paranoia reigns. Charlie tries to quell his rising panic, avoid angering his volatile mother, and awkwardly manage his first love. It’s a summer of change, of lies exposed, and painful truths realized.
This Australian novel is a riveting combination of mystery, excellent writing, and Big Questions; it’s no wonder it was a 2012 Printz honor book. The Vietnam War setting offers the perfect backdrop to explore matters of race and prejudice, and the tragedy exposes a multitude of ugly secrets in a town where everything looks nice on the surface. Jasper’s philosophizing on human nature, evil, and fear is well-crafted and sticks with you long after you finish the story. This is one of those rare books that pulls you in with a thriller and leaves you thinking about life and death. Also, enjoy the literary references and sentence-crafting; Silvey’s masterful writing makes this so much more than just a plot-driven mystery novel.
Silvey, Craig. Jasper Jones. Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 2009. 312 pp. Ages 15 and up.
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