Friday, April 29, 2011

YA Fiction: Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

Jasper Jones is the kid every parent warns their children about. He's the kid who's blamed for everything, including dragging other children into trouble. And he's knocking on 13-year-old Charles Bucktin's window late one night, wanting help from this unlikely, bookish ally. Taking Chuck into the woods, Jasper shows him something that will not only change his view of the small Australian town he lives in, but also lead to his unique coming-of-age story.
What makes a YA book without fast-paced action, amazing plot twists, romantic angst (well, there is some), or fantastical or dystopian elements such a good read? The author's writing. What keeps Jasper Jones moving is that Silvey gets inside his characters' teenage heads, generally with humorous outcomes. Much of the bantering dialogue between Chuck and his friend, Jeffrey, reminded me of my old church youth group's discussions because of their stereotypical teenage nonsense arguments and wonderings and, yes, pervertedness and profanity. Even though Jasper, the titular character, is absent (along with the mystery that at first, mistakenly, appears to be the central plot) for a significant portion of the novel, Chuck's individual story is entertaining enough to keep readers, well, reading. It's not so much of what Jasper shows Chuck at the beginning that's ultimately the focus of the novel, but Chuck's coming-of-age as he deals with what he sees and with new revelations of his small-town society. Think The Catcher in the Rye or To Kill a Mockingbird (to quote the back of the ARC) or, in my opinion, Carol Plum-Ucci's The Body of Christopher Creed or Edward Bloor's Tangerine. I fell in love with Silvey's storytelling and his characters; my only complaint about the book is that, at times, the characters seemed too mature for thirteen- and fourteen-year-olds. Still, Jasper Jones is a great read. It's not for everyone, but for readers who don't mind thinking a bit about the deeper content of their novels, it's wonderful.

Maturity Factor: Proverbial teenage profanity and pervertedness.

My ARC of Jasper Jones was received through Random House's Random Buzzers program. Originally published in Australia, it went on sale in the U.S. on April 5, 2011.

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