Monday, September 23, 2013

Review: Jasper Jones

Jasper Jones
By Craig Silvey, read by Matt Cowlrick
Published 2012 by Listening Library

Charlie is surprised to find Jasper Jones knocking frantically at his window one night - one because Charlie is not the type of kid to have late night visitors and two because he doesn't really know Jasper that well. But Jasper is desperate for Charlie's help and, being the kind of kid he is, Charlie goes with him. He'll soon wish he hadn't.

I've been meaning to read this ever since it won a Printz Honor in 2012 - sometimes I feel like I'll never catch up on the award-winning books. I downloaded the audio version and finally decided to give it a go. I've got incredibly mixed feelings about it.

I'm not entirely sure what I expected before I started this book but I'm almost positive that no matter what I expected, Jasper Jones was not it. Maybe I expected a mystery - well, this book has that, but not in any way I would have expected. Yes, there is a mystery that Jasper Jones and, to a lesser degree Charlie, is trying to solve. And yet, somehow, this is not the main focus of the book. What this book instead appears to be about is growing up and discovering that nothing is as simple as it seems, that people's lives are infinitely more complicated than you can imagine, and that life is neither fair nor easy. This book is as much about a small town as it is about Charlie or Jasper or Laura or Eliza or Mad Jack Lionel. Perhaps the greatest strength of this novel lies in Silvey's writing, in his ability to make you feel like you're Charlie's age again and just discovering all the horrible truths about the world. I mean, this book is downright unsettling. This book makes me want to sit down with the kids who are at that precarious age and assure them that everything is not awful. This book reminded me of how terrible people can be, something I didn't really want to be reminded of. This book is written so vividly and achingly - it's heartbreaking, really.

I'll admit, I was not convinced by this book in its first few chapters. After all, where was the sleuthing? I expected a mystery, didn't I? Just when exactly were they going to get down to solving it? But this book creeps up on you. There's a reason that mystery is not always at the forefront, and that's to say something larger about growing up and life in general. It's pretty brilliantly done I think.

But the mystery itself - well, it wasn't quite what I expected, and I liked that. I liked that Charlie sort of became oddly fascinated with discovering how truly awful humans can be to one another by researching other famous crimes. I'm not afraid to say that I have a bit of a fascination with serial killers and the like, so I definitely related to that aspect of Charlie's personality. I also related to Charlie's inherent goodness and how much his new behavior freaks out his parents. I was a goody-two-shoes in high school and anything out of the norm raised flags for my parents. I completely understand this. The mystery - well, it's part of the heartbreak of this story and it's awful and sad and tragic and unfortunately, not all that hard to believe.

Overall, this sounds like a pretty positive review and I suppose it is. My one major caveat is that Charlie quite often does not read like a 13-year-old, particularly after he falls in love with Eliza. Maybe this won't bother other readers (it obviously did not bother the Printz committee), but it niggled at the back of my mind.

One bonus of listening to the audio version: lovely Australian accent.

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