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April 2015

Jasper Jones (Craig Silvey)

I first came across Jasper Jones as a prescribed text at the school in which I worked.  Half the kids complained about it (but hey, any text prescribed for English is bound to get a few complaints) but those who were brave enough to actually confess they enjoyed it, said it was "pretty good" (from a teenager, this translates to a glowing and hearty recommendation).  If you believe the publishers spin on the cover, it's billed as an Australian "To Kill a Mockingbird", and I guess once you get reading you can see the strong parallels.  Aside from the fact that Atticus Finch is mentioned numerous times.

Jasper Jones is the outcast of the small (fictional) mining town of Corrigan, the teenage scapegoat who is seen as the source and instigator of anything that remotely resembles "trouble".  He is also the son of a drunk, and half aboriginal, so he is basically a happy blend of many of society's prejudices.  So when Jasper finds himself in the middle of a serious situation of which he played no part, he seeks the help of Charlie; 13 years old and a studious, book-reading, honest and reliable sort (book-reading types are always honest and reliable!!).  Charlie is stunned that the infamous Jasper Jones even knows who he is and eagerly agrees to help, until Jasper reveals the gravity of the problem and Charlie's perspective on life changes forever.

Set in the 60's against the distant backdrop of the Vietnam War, the parallels with To Kill a Mockingbird are there, but the narrative still stands on it's own.  The outback Australia imagery is also strong, and in some scenes I could clearly picture the opaque brown, slow moving river, long grass and big red gums on the edge of town.  I could feel the oppressive still heat of an inland Australian town.  I could hear the bugs.  Oh yes, the bugs (of which Charlie has a heart-stopping fear).  The banter between Charlie and his best friend, Jeffrey Lu, is also hilarious in parts, with many of the phrases still stuck in my mind (I bid you "a jew"!).  And for some reason the strong image I have of Jeffrey's character is the little sidekick kid from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.  Why him?  No idea, the mind works in mysterious ways.

I can see why Jasper Jones has been chosen as a text to study in Australian schools.  The plot is gripping, the characters are well written and engaging, and the setting is strongly Australian.  Moral messages are also abundant, and provide many opportunities for compare, contrast and discuss essay questions.

Basically, Jasper Jones can offer the serious reader enough meat to ponder morality and metaphor and the state of society, but it also offers the leisure reader an engaging and entertaining read.  Go forth and read it!


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