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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Jasper Jones, written by Craig Silvey. Alfred A Knopf, Random House. 2009. $18.99 ages 14 and up

"He is feared and revered, and he knows it. He has a tattoo. He is surly and volatile. I hate him like poison.
And,  probably due to the fact that most of his bodily resources are diverted directly to his pituitary gland, he's also an affront to academia. Seldom is this boasted about, but he also holds the record for most grades repeated (two). It's a little fact that renders me smug, but also sore, because his stupidity has placed him in my grade."

Charlie is the narrator of this coming-of-age story set in 1960s Australia. His father is a high school teacher of English literature. Charlie is a reader, and a bit of an outcast among his school mates. Jasper Jones, the young man tagged 'bad boy' in their small, insulated town, knocks at Charlie's lighted window one night. Accompanying Jasper in hopes of helping him turns Charlie's life upside down.

The discovery that Jasper has made is shocking, to say the least. The story revolves around the impact it has on Charlie, his family and his friends. It is not an easy story to read; but, it is compelling, hard hitting and it held my attention from the first page to the last. The writing is mesmerizing at times, and I found myself adding quotes by the score to my journal.

Here's an observation from Charlie:

"Sorry means you leave yourself open, to embrace or to ridicule or to revenge. Sorry is a question that begs forgiveness, because the metronome of a heart won't settle until things are set right and true. Sorry doesn't take things back, but it pushes things forward. It bridges the gap. Sorry is a sacrament. It's an offering. A gift."

I just love the relationship that Charlie has with his friend, Jeffrey Lu. Jeffrey has some problems of his own. His parents are Vietnamese, and targeted by the town bigots who blame his father for living there, while some townsfolk are off fighting the much maligned war in the Lu's home country.  These are two boys who are best friends, loyal and gregarious. Their banter made me laugh, and certainly rings true in my experience with teenage boys. They are not on the same page about girls and sports, but their friendship is real and supportive:

"See, Chuck, while you're mincing about saying clever things to girls, some of us are training themselves to the point of immaculate perfection for your protection. It must be nice for you to have a horse like me in your stable. You're a citizen. You can afford to rest on your laurels. Because you know that Jeffrey Lu is standing in the path of tyranny."
"Sir, your sacrifice means everything to me."
"It's hardly a sacrifice. I'd rather hone my superior skills to infallible sharpness than swan about smooching girls."

Always funny, and worthy of looking back to their repartee...they made me laugh out loud more than once! These characters are achingly real, the plot well-paced and the issues generated for discussion  numerous...loyalty, acceptance, friendship, family, romance, abuse, death and racism.

Entertaining, thoughtful and sure to capture the attention of young male readers, I will long remember these characters and the tender and tough circumstances that draw them together:

"We'd gone to confront Mad Jack Lionel about murdering Laura Wishart, only to find that he was driving the car that killed Jasper's mother. This world isn't right. It's small and it's nasty and it's lousy with sadness. Under every rock, hidden in every closet, shaken from every tree, it seems there's something horrible I don't want to see. I don't know. Maybe that's why this town is so content to face in on itself, to keep so settled and smooth and serene. And at the moment, I can't say as I blame them."

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