Sunday, April 22, 2012

Book Review: Jasper Jones

I selected this audio book from the young adult reading section of our library. It is slated for listeners ages 12 to 17, however, I wouldn't probably allow any of my sons to read it at age 12. Due to the intense cursing and nihilistic worldview, I felt somewhat uncomfortable listening myself. I thought about setting it aside, but I am so glad that I didn't. In the end, it was a really good book, cursing and nihilism notwithstanding. This would be an excellent book to suggest for a reluctant teenage male reader, with a clear understanding that the content is difficult to sit with and intense at times.

At the beginning, I was tripped up by the constant bad language. I can understand that the author is appealing to teenage boys and teenage boys do have a fascination with such language. It would be realistic for them to use the language, it just made me uncomfortable. I always prefer a story be told without resorting to the crude and obscene.

By the end, I was transfixed. In fact, by the eighth out of nine CDs, I could no longer merely listen when convenience placed me in the car. I had to find time to listen on my CD player in whatever moments I could snatch apart from my younger boys.

Here is the plot summary I gleaned from author Craig Silvey's own website:

"Late on a hot summer night in the tail end of 1965, Charlie Bucktin, a precocious and bookish boy of thirteen, 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."

So what did I like so much about the book? The characters were very well-drawn. The main character's best friend, Jeffrey Lu, is quite the character and made me laugh out loud at his bravado. Indeed, much of the typical boy banter between the two was hilarious. From the hypothetical scenario discussions to the constant name-calling between the two, the dialogue was genuine BOY!

The plot was intense. From the moment the secret discovery is made to the end, the reader is riding a wave of action to determine the truth behind the discovery. I will admit, I suspected the wrong person in the end, but was quite satisfied with the resolution and the ending of the book. It was a bit repetitive at times, but I assume that a teenager would certainly perseverate on the actions involved in this story.

I would recommend this to my teenage son, Bryce, because despite the bad elements in the book, there is still a resonance of truth (especially about the way truth gets twisted). However, I would probably discuss with him the nihilistic worldview presented and counter the arguments in the book against the existence of God. I still couldn't recommend it for impressionable young boys, however. And there might even be some 15 year olds who would be unable to handle this book. My 15 year old is quite strong in what he believes and could handle the intense subject matter. Also, since it is heavily laden with boy humor, it might not appeal as much to teenage girls.

I read that film rights have been purchased, so it will be interesting to see if they clean up the language or leave it in the film version. It will also be interesting to see if they nail the actor selection for the characters in the story. I'm assuming it will be produced in Australia, so it will have the wonderful Australian accent which I loved in the narration.

The author, Craig Silvey, wrote his first book at age nineteen and completed this second book, Jasper Jones at age 26. Kudos to the young author for such outstanding accomplishments! I'm sure we can look for more from this talented author.

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