Jasper Jones has been sitting on my bookshelf for a long time. I can’t even remember when or where I bought it, although I have a feeling that I wanted to read more Australian fiction while I waited for a new Tim Winton book to come out. I still didn’t read it back then but it leapt out at me when I was trying to find a book title with J for this month’s A-Z Challenge.
Late one night, thirteen-year-old Charlie Bucktin is startled by a knock on his window.
His visitor is Jasper Jones. Rebellious, mixed-race and solitary, Jasper is intriguing. And he needs Charlie’s help. In the dead of night, the boys steal through town, and Charlie learns of Jasper’s horrible discovery.
Burdened by a terrible secret and the weight of a town’s suspicion, Charlie feels his world closing in.
After this summer nothing will ever be the same again.
Jasper Jones and I may have taken our time getting acquainted but I am so very happy that we finally did. He’s a shadowy and enigmatic character when he first appears outside Charlie Bucktin’s window. Pushed into the margins by life while still only a boy, he’s held up as a bad influence and ignored until bad things happen and people need someone to blame. There were even moments in the book where I wondered if he would turn out to be a figment of Charlie’s imagination.
Jasper Jones’ name may be on the cover but it’s the younger boy, Charlie, who narrates the story; the fledging writer whose window Jasper comes to when he needs help. The two boys aren’t friends before this night but they will form a bond to keep a terrible secret from the rest of the town. As Charlie says:
“I trust him. I really do. And not because I have to. I think he’s probably the most honest person in this town. He has no reason to lie. He has no reputation to protect.”
Secrets and stories abound in this small town, taking on a life of their own and replacing facts with suspicion, prejudice and myth. Their misguided actions were well-intentioned but it’s hard to see how the secret can remain hidden. Charlie will have a long, tortuous summer unable to talk to anyone else about it.
“This night has pickpocketed me of precious things I can’t ever get back. I feel robbed, but I don’t feel cheated by Jasper Jones. It’s a curious emptiness. Like when you move to a new house and there’s no furniture nor familiar walls, the same sort of weird alloy of abandonment and upheaval. It’s a lonely sensation.”
It’s something that both boys will feel the weight of, Charlie likening it to there being a brick in his stomach. Happily for him and us, Charlie has his best friend, Jeffrey, who lives over the road from him.
“He’s the bravest person I’ll ever know.”
There’s so much truth to this. Jeffrey Lu is truly the best little man there is. And it’s in Charlie (or Chuck) and Jeffrey’s moments together that there is real humour, brotherly affection and friendship. I loved their relationship so much and raged at the discrimination, anger and even violence directed towards Jeffrey and his family. Everyone needs the courage, intelligence, wit and resilience of a Jeffrey among their friends. Someone who not only believes in themselves but also in you and who will step up for you.
Jasper Jones may have its macabre moments, destructive secrets, sad misunderstandings, unhappiness, outright prejudice and even aggression but this is balanced out by people’s trust in others, friendship, love (and a crush taking its first tentative steps towards becoming something more) and real bravery. It’s the story of not one but three small-town boys and the life-changing summer in which they grow up.
Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey is published by Windmill Books, a Cornerstone imprint and part of Penguin Books UK. It is available as an audiobook, ebook, in hardback and paperback. You can buy it from Amazon UK or from Hive where purchases help support your local independent bookshop. Jasper Jones was made into a 2017 film starring Toni Collette and Hugo Weaving.