One of the many perks of working in a bookshop is being able to read books before they come out. Publishers like to send us things that they hope we’ll like, so that we can start selling the book as soon as it comes out. Pretty wily, those publishers. Anyway, a lot of the time, they send us crap – reading copies of good books never seem to come my way. But, I’d read Rhubarb, Silvey’s first novel, and thought it was pretty good. So I figured, why not?
Charlie Bucktin is woken up late on enight by someone tapping on his window – Jasper Jones, the town punching bag needs his help. He leads Charlie to the body of a dead girl – a girl that Jasper was very close to. Convincing Charlie that hiding the body is for the best, they must try to keep this secret between the two of them, as the formal investigation into the girl’s disappearance begins. As this is taking place, though, Charlie realises he is falling in love with the dead girl’s sister.
Regular readers of this blog (do they even exist?) will be aware of my intense dislike of books that endow their teenage characters with amazing powers of deduction well beyond their years. And, alas, to a certain extent, Silvey falls into this trap. Charlie is supposed to be thirteen, but he seems pretty switched on for that age. I think if he’d been about sixteen, I wouldn’t have minded quite so much. However, this minor niggle is more than made up for by the fact that the entire book is totally awesome. And yes, I’m channelling valley girl tonight.
I love this book. Just throwing it out there. One of the most refreshing and genuinely good books I’ve read in a long time. Charlie is great. He’s just so normal. There’s nothing special about him – he doesn’t get girls, he writes in his spare time, he fights with his parents, and he and his best friend get up to all sorts of mischief. I think Silvey has done a brilliant job in creating this character, and finding the perfect setting for him to live in. I don’t think Charlie Bucktin could live in today’s society – and so 1963 country town is the best place for him. This era gives Silvey some interesting material to work with – most notably, the fact that Charlie’s best friend is Vietnamese makes for some interesting tension between the Lu family and the rest of the town. It’s interesting to see parallels between Jeffrey’s father keeping his job at the local mine while others lose theirs, and what goes on today. This racism is not a big part of the novel, but it’s a good one nonetheless. Not the racism, but the treatment of it. You know what I mean.
It’s not just Charlie that makes this book so good – the supporting characters have a life of their own. Jeffrey is another amazing creation, and his endless enthusiasm for, among other things, cricket is a vital part of the novel. One particular sequence involving a (strangely gripping) game of cricket allows Jeffrey to be a character in his own right, while still allowing Charlie to simmer in the background. Similarly, Eliza, Charlie’s love interest is sufficiently cute and the such to make the two of them perfect together. Special mentions also to Charlie’s parents, who bring new meaning to the word dysfunctional. Charlie’s mum is nuts – I particularly liked her forms of punishment, and was constantly thankful that my own mother was never cruel enough to make me dig a hole and then fill it. Oddly enough, the titular Jasper Jones doesn’t feature that heavily in the novel, though I suppose it is him who causes the chain of events that form the plot, so I gues he’s allowed to be the title…
The strength of this novel really is the cast of characters that make it so likeable and accessible. The mystery plotline is interesting enough, but (and I’m not trying to sound facetious here, promise) I did work out what happened about halfway through. But that’s ok. Similarly, the Jones family mystery was, a little bit interesting. That’s not the point of the novel. It’s these characters, and how they react to the changing world around them. Whether they survive, change, or sink, is what we are interested in. Silvey proves he isn’t just a one-book kind of guy with this novel, and hopefully, it’ll see him gain some much deserved coverage.