Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Printz Honor winner Jasper Jones begins fast--the title character (the town teen pariah) knocks on the bedroom window of a boy he barely knows and leads the protagonist, Charlie, to the dead body of teen female dangling from a noose.
The novel strikes me as a bit of a homage to Mark Twain. While the protagonist reads Puddin' Head Wilson and discusses Twain with his father, much of the novel smacks of the memorable components from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Puddin' Head Wilson.
Jasper Jones himself is cut from the cloth of Twain--part Injun Joe and part Huck, Jasper appears and disappears. He has dragged Charlie into a crime that no one can solve...and by doing so drags the reader into the tension as well. The piecing together of clues and the reasoning he occurs between Jasper and Charlie draws on the litigious merits of Puddin' Head in addition to Atticus Finch (who Charlie also mentions and regales in the novel).
For page upon page, we wait for the other shoe to drop. We wait for someone in charge to discover the body, to find A clue, to approach Jasper or Charlie and bring them in for questioning. We look over our shoulder for the spotter planes, the detectives, the search parties to find the body of adolescent Laura Wishart.
As the tension grows palpable, and as Jasper and Charlie uncover truths even more horrible than the body of the dead girl, author Craig Silvey develops some wonderful complexities of plot among side characters: Jeffrey, Charlie's parents, Jeffrey's parents, and Mad Jack Lionel (the murderous man the town hates and fears). Charlie's own Becky Thatcher, Eliza Wishart, evokes the spirit of Audrey Hepburn, or rather Holly GoLightly, and continues the very vivid resonance of Twain's influence and inspiration on Silvey...not to mention the fact that the hateful, racist, and judgmental town mirrors the hypocrites of St Petersburg, Missouri.
There's even a body of water--although this one resonates more with Marilyn Robinson's wonderful lake of the damp and eerie fictional town of Fingerbone in Housekeeping. Robinson's cold lake swallowed secrets...as does Silvey's.
I really like Jasper Jones--mainly because I loved being yanked into adventure immediately, and I thoroughly enjoyed the characters. I felt compassion for Mad Jack; I laughed at and with Jeffrey; bitterness for the townspeople just to name a few emotions.
"By Jingo!" to inoke The Adventures of Tom Sawyer...this is an entertaining coming-of-age adventure combining coming-of-age, crime, and the passage from innocence to experience.
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