When the cover of a book states it is "the Australian To Kill A Mockingbird" (The Monthly), you have to admit this is a pretty big call to make. It's enough to make you prick your ears up and make you doubt the book, all in the same breath. And while I usually dislike such comparisons, I have to agree this is pretty spot on, and I would have picked up the connection even if it didn't say so on the cover.
The similarities lie in the coming-of-age story, where our young protagonist is exposed to parts of the real world that they don't understand and question relentlessly. There is inner reflection, a love of books, older role models, a childhood best friend and people who have been wrongly accused and suffer in silence, the 'Boo Radleys' of the world, if I may. But Jasper Jones stands on its own merits too.
Silvey's lyrical prose takes the reader back to the 1950s and a small town in Western Australia, where we meet Charlie Bucktin. Thirteen, bookish, a Vietnamese best (and only) friend and a crush on Eliza Wishart. Enter Jasper Jones, tapping on Charlie's window in the middle of the night. Jasper is the town's outcast, a rebel, the kind of boy you don't want around your daughter. He has a devastating secret and he needs Charlie's help. This the summer where Charlie grows up and learns about life - the hard way.
It's so easy to write reviews about books when you don't like them. But when you love them - for me this has always been much harder. How can I convey properly all the emotion, all the angst, all the tension this book contained - and I contained in myself as I read it? A great book makes you feel things. I felt everything. I couldn't put it down as it hurtled towards the conclusion but I didn't want it to end, either. Silvey's writing is a joy to read, insightful and witty. Charlie and Jeffrey's back and forth was so amusing and such fun to read. His exchanges with Eliza were heart wrenching with the pangs of first, awkward love. The enigmatic Jasper didn't appear more than three or four times throughout the book but his presence was felt throughout. It was an interesting way to present such a character but I thought it was fitting.
Charlie learns a lot over that summer: dealing with bullies, the confrontations of racism, the injustices of the world, the heaviness of white lies and withholding the truth. He battles jealousy and the meaning of true friendship and loyalty, and deals with the disappointment of someone he loves, and watches a myth dispelled about someone who preferred to keep to himself. That summer changes everything for Charlie but change is in the town as well.
Craig Silvey is a true Australian gem of an author and I look forward to reading more of his work. Categorize this however you like, it is simply a really good book.
This review is also posted at Crash My Book Party. Check there for more reviews!