In an interview with his publisher Allen & Unwin, Silvey summarises his novel as “coming-of-age, regional mystery novel, stuffed inside a nervous little love story, garnished with family drama and adolescent escapism and anguish.”
Set in the mid-sixties in Corrigan, a fictional small regional town of Western Australia, Jasper Jones opens with 13-year-old Charlie Bucktin reading Twain’s Puddínhead Wilson under lamplight in the sweltering heat of the night.
He is disturbed by an urgent knock on the window. It is Jasper Jones, an older Aboriginal boy who Charlie has never crossed paths with but has admired from afar for his independence and sense of self. Charlie is somewhat in awe of Jasper who the town has labelled “a Thief, a Liar, a Thug, a Truant.”
Jasper needs Charlie’s help and although terrified, Charlie is excited and honoured by the request and so follows Jasper through the town to a secret hiding spot in the bush where what he sees will change his life forever.
Locked into a secret pact with Jasper, Charlie starts to see everything around him through different eyes: his so-called close-knit family, the blatant racism of the honourable citizens of his country town, the true meaning of friendship and the possibility of first love.
Characters in Jasper Jones
Charlie Bucktin is the voice in Jasper Jones. He is a nerdy, intelligent, sensitive, book-loving and somewhat unpopular 13-year-old boy who is easy to admire. Certain aspects of Charlie are autobiographical as Silvey was raised in small-town Western Australia where he had to hide his geeky love of books from the world.
Charlie’s best friend is Jeffrey Lu, a 12-year old Vietnamese immigrant whose passion for cricket is obsessive, but optimism in the light of constant racism is admirable.
Silvey describes Jeffrey as potentially his greatest literary creation and it is easy to see why. The banter between the two friends as they discuss cricket and debate superheroes is thick, fast and hilarious. The scene where Jeffrey realises his cricketing dream is brilliant.
Jasper Jones is the third main character in the novel and portrayed as the town’s scapegoat. Stereotyped and misunderstood, Jasper is a teenage boy desperate to seek justice in an unforgiving town. He successfully sweeps the reader along in his quest for understanding.
Themes in Jasper Jones
Jasper Jones is set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War when racial issues were the talk of the town. It is Jeffrey and his family who receive the brunt of this hostility, though some is saved for the Aboriginal Jasper.
Jasper Jones also tackles first love, growing up, family unity and the sense of belonging in a community.
Acclaim for Jasper Jones
Young Australian author Craig Silvey has won a bag of awards for this novel. In 2010 it won both the Literary Fiction Book of the Year and the Book of the Year in the Australian Book Industry Awards. It was also shortlisted for both the Miles Franklin Literary Award and the NSW Premier's Literary Award - Christina Stead Prize for Fiction.
Prior to this it also won the Overall Winner, Indie Book of the Year Award 2009 and the Indie Book of the Year 2009 - Fiction. It was also the Winner for Fiction 2009 for the Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards.
In 2011 the book was shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and in 2012, received the Michael L. Printz Honor Award.
About Craig Silvey
Craig Silvey was born in the small country town of Dwellingup. He first hit the limelight when Fremantle Press published Rhubarb in 2004. In 2005, Rhubarb was chosen as the “One Book” for the Perth International Writers’ Festival and found its way to every public library in Western Australia.
In 2008, The World According to Warren was shortlisted for the Children’s Book Council of Australia Crichton Award. This children’s book stars the guide dog from Rhubarb.
Jasper Jones (Allen and Unwin, 2009, ISBN: 9781742372624, 368 pages).
My rating: ★★★★★