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Jasper Jones

Jasper Jones - Craig Silvey This review is so overdue it’s.. not even funny anymore. Actually, it wasn’t funny to begin with so there goes my witty opening. Things can only go down from here, really. I warn you. If I was a liar, I’d say I had left this review space to lie fallow so long because I was taking my time to process and analyse the novel, to think Deep and Meaningful Thoughts, and draft a serious and critical review. But the honest truth is (a) I can procrastinate like nobody’s business and, (b) I actually found the prospect of writing this review extremely daunting. I happen to be one of those people who sees a bar set high not as a challenge, but an excuse to slink away and pretend I was never there. “Nothing to see here people, just wimping out…”And does Craig Silvey ever set the bar high. SighsThere’s a precarious point between following the rules for writing and breaking the rules for writing where occasionally something quite brilliant is created. (I started trying to make a venn diagram to illustrate that point, then realised I was just avoiding this review again.) And overall, with a few unsteady moments, I think that Jasper Jones hits that mark. Of all those things I (and others, I suspect) was taught to never do while writing, Silvey has used them to craft something quite special, a book that is less words on paper and more a profoundly moving experience. In the spirit of full disclosure, I didn’t feel this way immediately. From the first page, I thought the writing was beautiful, arresting. But throughout the first couple of chapters (and they’re long chapters) I was conscious of a feeling that I wanted to hop outside of myself, get behind my own brain, and push - like rolling a stone up a hill. I was aware that what I was reading was good, even great, and that I was going to be rewarded in some way. But despite Charlie and Jasper's grim discovery at the book’s opening, there was also something arduous about it, the way book meanders through its set up. And call me un-Australian (haha) but I’m afraid all that cricket talk went straight to the keeper and it was a bit of a slog for me to get through. I realise that’s not a very auspicious way to begin a book. But in hindsight, I don’t think I would change a thing. I think that it was necessary to create the layers of tension and subtext and relationships, to create the drowsy, yet unsettling atmosphere that make Jasper Jones what it is. Which is unapologetic and brilliant. In so many ways, this is a story about growing up versus becoming an adult. Charlie, a bookish teen, and Jasper, marginalised due to his indigenous heritage, are both outcasts that must grow up in a way that some of the adult characters never have. Both are compelled to make life-altering choices amid the deceptive quiet of life in a country town. Silvey captures small town Australia so perfectly, even more so the social and political climate of the time. This isn’t always easy to read. After all, this was a time period when the effects and attitudes of the White Australia Policy and assimilation were still very much imprinted on the consciousness of a nation – and the prejudice, intolerance and outright cruelty that Aboriginal Australians and migrants were subjected to is disquieting. It’s a brave move, choosing not to paint 1960s Australia simply in strokes of fond nostalgia, but to reveal the shades of racism and narrow-mindedness that bred malice and ostracism. It’s unflinchingly honest, and thereby highlights the very real courage of its young protagonists, who forge a bond in the face of a community that fears what it does not know. Jasper Jones is a book that creeps into your stomach and stretches your nerves. There’s a growing sense of unease seeping through the pages that belies the somewhat somnolent manner in which the story unfolds. And as the true nature of the Corrigan’s secrets – Laura’s, Jasper’s, Eliza’s, Mad Jack Lionel’s – begin to emerge, it’s hard not to feel anxious and sick and entirely absorbed in this complex, grey story. Silvey weaves his backdrop of Corrigan with richly realised characters, from Charlie’s sharp and unhappy mother, to his effusive friend Jeffrey, but it was Jasper that truly owns my heart. Accepted nowhere but on the football field, his was the story that touched me the most, his rough words of insight that struck me with their truth, the glimpses of his fear through his bravado that were heart-rending. He does not tell this story, but it’s his presence that makes it what it is. I feel like I say this a lot in reviews, as some kind of caveat, but I’m going to say it yet again: this book won’t be for everyone. The writing, the subject matter, and the technical aspects (which the lovely Shirley does a far better job of discussing) may not be equally accessible to all readers. And I’ll be interested to see whether the Printz nomination garners this book a broader, crossover audience, as in Australia (as far as I’m aware) it’s generally marketed towards adults. But there’s just something beautifully unique about this book, the way it doesn’t bend to conventional rules, a very Australian essence distilled and concentrated so accurately.And the final, chilling scenes that wrap up this the story are so fitting and lingering that I think the closing image is possibly indelibly stamped on my brain. Long after finishing this book I was still wrapped up in it, the questions it presented, the threads that lay ambiguously untied. The last star of my rating is for that ending alone. Powerful and haunting.***I just finished this on the tram this morning. Speechless.Intercontinental mass readalong of Jasper Jones