This afternoon I finished up the remaining 100 pages of Craig Silvey's Jasper Jones, an Australian YA novel. The day before, I gave myself the lofty goal of reading three books. Well, I read three books, but I only managed to finish one of them yesterday. The other two I finished off earlier today. While the other two were quite good, Jasper Jones was the one that truly kept me spellbound.
The effortlessly moody coming of age story starts off when teenage Charlie is awoken at night by Jasper Jones, the half-Aboriginal outcast in town. The two barely know each other at the novel's start, but as it continues, their stories become intricately entwined. Jasper has found something horrifying in his eucalyptus hideout: Laura, the head of the shire's daughter, whom he had been secretly seeing at night, is dead, battered, and suspended from the tree. He knows how he is seen in town. No one will believe that he didn't do it. So the two young men do the only thing they can imagine doing at that point. They hide the body and tell no one.
With purposeful echoes of To Kill a Mockingbird, Silvey sets Jasper Jones in a town with two Boo Radleys: Jasper Jones and the Jack Lionel, the reclusive old man that Jasper holds under suspicion for killing Laura. What impresses me about this book, though, is that there is so much of interest going on in addition to the murder mystery (itself quite captivating). Set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War as witnessed in a small Australian town, there is Charlie's friendship with Jeffrey Lu, a Vietnamese refugee whose hilarious conversation topics belie the serious mistreatment his father receives from their neighbors. And we also have Charlie's family life, with his horrid witch of a mother, and his hapless teacher father, the tension bubbling to the surface only towards the novel's end. And then there's Charlie's budding romance with Eliza, Laura's sister.
This is a rich, textured novel that readers will want to soak in, not hurry through. Teenage Me craved books like this, with glimpses of the messy grown-up world, and beautiful writing.
This is coming of age at its best.