Late on a hot summer night in 1965, Charlie Bucktin, a precocious and bookish boy of 13, is startled by an urgent knock on the window of his sleep-out. His visitor is Jasper Jones, an outcast in the regional mining town of Corrigan. Rebellious, mixed-race and solitary, Jasper is a distant figure of danger and intrigue for Charlie. So when Jasper begs for his help, Charlie eagerly steals into the night by his side, terribly afraid but desperate to impress. Jasper takes him through town and to his secret glade in the bush, and it’s here that Charlie bears witness to Jasper’s horrible discovery. With his secret like a brick in his belly, Charlie is pushed and pulled by a town closing in on itself in fear and suspicion as he locks horns with his tempestuous mother, falls nervously in love and battles to keep a lid on his zealous best friend, Jeffrey Lu. And in vainly attempting to restore the parts that have been shaken loose, Charlie learns to discern the truth from the myth, and why white lies creep like a curse. In the simmering summer where everything changes, Charlie learns why the truth of things is so hard to know, and even harder to hold in his heart.
by Jo Case, editor of Readings Monthly
Craig Silvey’s much-awaited second novel is very different from the elegiac Rhubarb – but it’s every bit as good, if not better. And, like Rhubarb’s play on the Beatles song Eleanor Rigby, with its blind, achingly lonely protagonist of the same name, Jasper Jones draws on a range of literary and pop culture references, from Mark Twain and To Kill a Mockingbird to Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly.
It’s a riveting tale, set in 1960s small-town Australia, about a young, bookish adolescent who is drawn into events surrounding the grim disappearance of a local girl when the solitary Jasper Jones, a rebellious mixed-race older boy (in the town’s eyes, ‘a Thief, a Liar, a Thug, a Truant’) comes asking for his help. Alongside the mystery of the missing girl is a forensic examination of the small town of Corrigan, a place beset by undercurrents of racism and fear of the unknown.
‘I think Jasper Jones speaks the truth in a community of liars,’ says Charlie. Indeed, nearly everyone here has something to hide, including Charlie’s father, an Atticus Finch doppelganger who believes books are the font of all wisdom (especially Mark Twain), and his caustic, unhappy mother, whose glare ‘could make a eunuch out of Errol Flynn’. Some of the most gripping sequences involve Charlie’s best friend Jeffrey Lu and his family, Vietnamese refugees who bear the brunt of burgeoning anger about the war. Deeply thoughtful, remarkably funny and playful, this is a gloriously Australian book about outsiders and secrets (both ordinary and extraordinary).
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