School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Everything changes for 14-year-old Charlie Bucktin the night the town outcast, Jasper Jones, knocks on his window. Jasper needs to show him something terrible, so he takes Charlie into his secret spot in the glade. Laura Wishart, the shire president's daughter and Jasper's friend, hangs from a tree, and unless the boys can hide her body, Jasper will surely be blamed. Without knowing the why or how of this tragedy, Charlie is left with a secret that's almost impossible to bear. The oppressive heat of a small Australian town is an appropriate setting for the slow boil of unraveling truths. Charlie seems wise beyond his years, using the vocabulary of the tomes in which he loses himself. There are, however, several glimpses to remind readers of his real age—in dealing with his first real crush, his uninhibited best friend, and his temperamental mother. Silvey is a master of wit and words, spinning a coming-of-age tale told through the mind of a young Holden Caulfield. Some readers may find themselves stumbling through the Australian slang and cricket-game terminology, but the universal themes are reminiscent of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. However, the expletives and subject matter make this gripping story most appropriate for older teens.—Kimberly Castle, Stark County District Library, Canton, OH
Australian author Silvey wears his influences (notably To Kill a Mockingbird) a little too obviously on his sleeve in a novel about crime, race, and growing up in a 1960s Australian mining town. Charlie, 13, is woken up on a hot summer night by teenage outcast Jasper, who wants to show him something secret. That secret turns out to be the dead body of Laura Wishart, Jasper's occasional paramour and the older sister of Charlie's own crush, Eliza. The boys, assuming that Jasper will be blamed, hide the body, and Laura's disappearance combines with the boys' guilt and lies to create an ongoing spiral of stress. The town of Corrigan is rife with racism, which is directed mainly at the half-aboriginal Jasper and Charlie's Vietnamese best friend, Jeffrey. The banter between Jeffrey and Charlie drives the novel's lighter scenes, but can distract, feeling more like Tarantinoesque pop culture asides than anything else. Still, when Silvey, making his U.S. debut, focuses on the town's ugly underbelly, as well as the troubles in Charlie's family, the novel is gripping enough to overcome its weaknesses. Ages 12–up. (Apr.)
From the Publisher
Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2011:
"The author’s keen ear for dialogue is evident in the humorous verbal sparring between Charlie and Jeffrey, typical of smart 13-year-old boys...A richly rewarding exploration of truth and lies by a masterful storyteller."
Starred Review, The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, April 2011:
"Silvey’s sure-footed, evocative prose, intelligent humor, and careful plot structuring may well ensure this Aussie import lasting status."
Starred Review, The Horn Book Magazine, May/June 2011:
"The mood and atmosphere of the 1960s small-town Australian setting is perfectly realized—suspenseful, menacing, and claustrophobic—with issues of race and class boiling just below the surface."
Starred Review, School Library Journal, June 2011:
"Silvey is a master of wit and words, spinning a coming-of-age tale told through the mind of a young Holden Caulfield."
From the Hardcover edition.
Children's Literature - Shirley Nelson
In this novel set in a small town in Australia in the 1960's, thirteen-year-old Charlie Bucktin must face the ugly truths in his community and family as he also experiences the highs and lows of first love. Charlie spends most of his time reading and writing. He greatly admires the stories of Harper Lee and Mark Twain, and dreams of becoming a successful writer. His quiet life abruptly changes the night Jasper Jones knocks at his window and asks for help. Jasper takes Charlie to his special place in the woods where he had earlier made a horrific discovery. Jasper knows he, as a half-caste, will be blamed, and wants Charlie to help him solve the mystery. Terrible secrets about Charlie's friends and family are revealed as Charlie is anguishing over Jasper's situation. This beautifully written coming-of-age story will have readers questioning, along with Charlie, whether he did the right thing in helping Jasper even though he hurt those he loves. Reviewer: Shirley Nelson
VOYA - Jamie Hansen
When Jasper Jones, ne'er-do-well outsider in a small Australian mining town, knocks on the window of bookish Charles Bucktin one hot summer night, he is in grave distress. Normally, the two boys are only vaguely aware of each other. Fourteen-year-old half-caste Jasper is the truant, the liar, the thief all parents consider a dreadful threat to their own offspring, while Charlie, a year younger, is the skinny, studious kid mostly ignored in a sports-mad community. Now, Jasper needs to unburden a dreadful secret and Charlie is his desperate last hope. As they stumble through the thick heat and blackness of the Australian night, Jasper leads Charlie to his own hideout, now a scene of horror and death. The body of a teenaged girl dangles from the branch of a eucalyptus tree. Charlie becomes Jasper's unwilling co-conspirator in eliminating the evidence and keeping the appalling secret. All that long, breathless summer, as Charlie bears the weight of that secret, the town surrenders to fear and suspicion, his parents' marriage becomes more unstable, and his life spirals into chaos. Charlie Bucktin narrates the story of that terrible summer in a voice both wistful and profane. Harboring a shared secret, while maturing and seeking loveor simply acceptance he becomes a storyteller to rank with Holden Caulfield, Scout Finch, or Huckleberry Finn. Language and subject matter make this poignant and luminous novel best suited for older readers wanting a story of depth and power. Reviewer: Jamie Hansen
Charlie is catapulted into adulthood when Jasper Jones knocks on his window on a blisteringly hot Australian night and leads him to a hidden glade where a girl is hanging from a tree, bruised and bloody. Jasper, half-Anglo, half-Aborigine and the scapegoat for all misdeeds in their small town, knows he'll be held responsible for Laura's death. In a "cold moment of dismay . . . disarmed by a shard of knowing," Charlie helps Jasper hide the body. As Jasper delves to the heart of the mystery, Charlie's life goes on as usual, despite the brick in his stomach from keeping their dreadful secret. A collector of words, he's dismayed that he can't find the right ones for the girl he has a crush on or to stick up for his Vietnamese-Australian friend, Jeffrey, who outplays the local bigots in cricket. Silvey infuses his prose with a musician's sensibility—Charlie's pounding heart is echoed in the terse, staccato sentences of the opening scenes, alternating with legato phrases laden with meaning. The author's keen ear for dialogue is evident in the humorous verbal sparring between Charlie and Jeffrey, typical of smart 13-year-old boys. Their wordplay—" 'I bid you a Jew.' 'And I owe your revoir' "—requires some sophistication of readers, who may also wish they'd brushed up on cricket terms. A richly rewarding exploration of truth and lies by a masterful storyteller. (Fiction. 12 & up)
Read an Excerpt
Jasper Jones has come to my window.
I don't know why, but he has. Maybe he's in trouble. Maybe he doesn't have anywhere else to go.
Either way, he's just frightened the living shit out of me.
This is the hottest summer I can remember, and the thick heat seems to seep in and keep in my sleepout. It's like the earth's core in here. The only relief comes from the cooler air that creeps in between the slim slats of my single window. It's near impossible to sleep, so I've spent most of my nights reading by the light of my kerosene lamp.
Tonight was no different. And when Jasper Jones rapped my louvres abruptly with his knuckle and hissed my name, I leapt from my bed, spilling my copy of Pudd'nhead Wilson.
I knelt like a sprinter, anxious and alert.
"Who is it?"
"Charlie! Come out here!"
"Who is it?"
"Jasper. Jasper!"--and he pressed his face right up into the light. His eyes green and wild. I squinted.
"What? Really? What is it?"
"I need your help. Just come out here and I'll explain," he whispered.
"Jesus Christ, Charlie! Just hurry up! Get out here."
And so, he's here.
Jasper Jones is at my window.
Shaken, I clamber onto the bed and remove the dusty slats of glass, piling them on my pillow. I quickly kick into a pair of jeans and blow out my lamp. As I squeeze headfirst out of the sleepout, something invisible tugs at my legs. This is the first time I've ever dared to sneak away from home. The thrill of this, coupled with the fact that Jasper Jones needs my help, already fills the moment with something portentous.
My exit from the window is a little like a foal being born. It's a graceless and gangly drop, directly onto my mother's gerbera bed. I emerge quickly and pretend it didn't hurt.
It's a full moon tonight, and very quiet. Neighborhood dogs are probably too hot to bark their alarm. Jasper Jones is standing in the middle of our backyard. He shifts his feet from right to left as though the ground were smoldering.
Jasper is tall. He's only a year older than me, but looks a lot more. He has a wiry body, but it's defined. His shape and his muscles have already sorted themselves out. His hair is a scruff of rough tufts. It's pretty clear he hacks at it himself.
Jasper Jones has outgrown his clothes. His button-up shirt is dirty and fit to burst, and his short pants are cut just past the knee. He wears no shoes. He looks like an island castaway.
He takes a step toward me. I take one back.
"Okay. Are you ready?"
"What? Ready for what?"
"I tole you. I need your help, Charlie. Come on." His eyes are darting, his weight presses back.
I'm excited but afraid. I long to turn and wedge myself through the horse's arse from which I've just fallen, to sit safe in the hot womb of my room. But this is Jasper Jones, and he has come to me.
"Okay. Wait," I say, noticing my feet are bare. I head toward the back steps, where my sandals sit, scrubbed clean and perfectly aligned. As I strap them on, I realize that this, the application of pansy footwear, is my first display of girlishness and has taken me mere moments. So I jog back with as much masculinity as I can muster, which even in the moonlight must resemble something of an arthritic chicken.
I spit and sniff and saw at my nose. "Okay, you roit? You ready?"
Jasper doesn't respond. He just turns and sets off.
After climbing my back fence, we head downhill into Corrigan. Houses huddle and cluster closer together, and then stop abruptly as we reach the middle of town. This late, the architecture is desolate and leached of color. It feels like we're traipsing through a postcard. Toward the eastern fringe, past the railway station, the houses bloom again and we pass quietly under streetlights which light up lawns and gardens. I have no idea where we're going. The further we move, the keener my apprehension grows. Still, there is something emboldening about being awake when the rest of the world is sleeping. Like I know something they don't.
We walk for an age, but I don't ask questions. Some way out of town, past the bridge and the broad part of the Corrigan River and into the farm district, Jasper pauses to feed a cigarette into his mouth. Wordlessly, he shakes the battered pack my way. I've never smoked before. I've certainly never been offered one. I feel a surge of panic. Wanting both to decline and impress, for some reason I decide to press my palms to my stomach and puff my cheeks when I wag my head at his offer, as if to suggest that I've smoked so many already this evening that I'm simply too full to take another.
Jasper Jones raises an eyebrow and shrugs.
He turns, rests his hip on a gatepost. As Jasper sucks at his smoke, I look past him and recognize where we are. I step back. Here, ghostly in the moonlight, slumps the weatherworn cottage of Mad Jack Lionel. I quickly look back at Jasper. I hope this isn't our destination. Mad Jack is a character of much speculation and intrigue for the kids of Corrigan. No child has actually laid eyes on him. There are full-chested claimants of sightings and encounters, but they're quickly exposed as liars. But the tall stories and rumors all weave wispily around one single irrefutable fact: that Jack Lionel killed a young woman some years ago and he's never been seen outside his house since. Nobody among us knows the real circumstances of the event, but fresh theories are offered regularly. Of course, the extent and nature of his crimes have grown worse over time, which only adds more hay to the stack and buries the pin ever deeper. But as the myth grows in girth, so too does our fear of the mad killer hidden in his home.
From the Hardcover edition.