The eponymous Jasper Jones is a part Aboriginal boy living in a West Australian town in the 1960s. He is used to prejudice. Our narrator is Charlie, a young, bookish, outcast from the same town. Jasper chooses Charlie when he really needs help and this is where the story begins.
Jasper needs Charlie’s help desperately but in order to help Charlie has to revise his notion of the world and replace it with something much more complex. His whole life is ineradicably altered by what he finds and this novel’s handling of the story is careful and interesting enough to make us want to go on the journey with him.
My favorite parts were definitely the hilarious dialogue between Charlie and his best friend, Jeffrey Lu. Being Vietnamese is 1960s Australia brings its own challenges but Jeffrey is up to that. His wit is spot on and there are several laugh out loud moments. Jeffrey is a cricket tragic and is excellent at playing the game. But, of course, the locals certainly don’t want to give him the chance. How many Vietnamese cricketers have you ever heard of from 1960s Western Australia?
Charlie’s love interest is the fragile Eliza Wishart and there are complications aplenty in their relationship, not the least of which is their social difference. Eliza’s sister, Laura, goes missing and Charlie knows more than he can possibly ever tell.
The strength of this novel is not simply, as the publisher’s blurb would have us believe, the multiple references to ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ but the similarities in theme are there. It is the complex relationships between characters that are far from stereotypical and the novel’s ability to lay bare the adult world that young Charlie is prematurely thrown into. It is a plausible depiction of small town life in rural Australia and has enough historical detail to maintain authenticity. The whodunnit factor will keep you guessing and the resolution was not too pat and obvious. I managed to read this in a couple of sittings which is a testimony to its storytelling abilities. Recommended.
There’s a video review of it here should you want to know more.
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