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Jasper Jones    by Craig Silvey order for
Jasper Jones
by Craig Silvey
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Ricki Marking-Camuto

Jasper Jones is both a young adult novel and a work of literature. Craig Silvey weaves a mysterious coming-of-age tale that adults might actually get more out of than teens.

Charlie Buckton has managed to avoid any real trouble in the first thirteen years of his life. He and his best friend, Jeffrey Lu, are top of their class (along with Eliza Wishart) and spend their time practicing cricket, writing stories and asking each other hypothetical questions. All this changes one night when Jasper Jones (the town's fourteen-year-old scapegoat because of his mixed heritage) comes to Charlie with a problem.

Jasper found his girlfriend, Laura Wishart, hanging from a tree in the secluded clearing in which they would always hang out. Jasper knows that if she is found, the police will arrest him. So he wants Charlie's help in hiding the body. Jasper believes the culprit is Mad Jack Lionel, a crazy hermit reputed to have killed before, and he wants to drown the body until he can prove that Mad Jack did it. Charlie agrees, but the weight of the secret changes him, especially as he gets closer to Eliza ... who seems to also know something about her sister's death.

On its surface, Jasper Jones is a story about secrets and growing up, but it is also about prejudice. The reason Charlie gets drawn into Jasper's mess is that if anything about Laura's death is tied to Jasper, he will be arrested because of the town's feeling about his family background. Conversely, Jasper displays some of his own stereotyping by concluding that Mad Jack Lionel was the killer because of rumors rampant in the town. There is also a side story concerning Jeffery and his family. As Australians are fighting in Viet Nam, the town starts to vent frustrations about the war on the Lu family just because they are Asian. This is a real eye-opener for both Charlie and the reader.

While Silvey does convey some very important lessons through a thirteen-year-old protagonist, Jasper Jones is better suited to the older reader. The language throughout is rather strong, and while middle schoolers do say these words among their friends, some of the character's actions are a tad too vulgar for a young teen to read. Also, the real cause of Laura's death could be very hard to take for younger readers.

Jasper Jones is a very well-written coming-of-age story, but the target audience seems a little blurry. However, Craig Silvey brings out excellent points that will leave readers thinking long after finishing the book.

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