My On/Off Relationship with Jasper Jones

26 May

I’ve been chewing on this book for a while. Every time I decide what I’m going to say about it, I change my mind. Which I’m starting to think is a critique in its own way. Basically, I wanted to love it. I relish a good coming of age story – a romp through puberty and self-discovery and wrangling some justice out of an unjust situation. I wanted to be completely swept away. And I tried, but I think I had to try a little too hard.

Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey has a lot going for it – a sinister mystery at its heart, a sweet love story on the side, and a brilliantly witty rapport between the main character (not Jasper Jones but another boy named Charlie – confusing, I know!) and his best friend. However, I felt like I was reading two separate stories that on their own could have been home runs (what’s a home run in cricket-speak?), but that just got in the way of each other when forced together. We begin with the mystery story – who killed Laura Wishart? Jasper finds his former flame hanging from a tree in his secret spot in the woods. He believes that his troublemaker reputation will land him in jail for the crime, so he enlists Charlie to help him cover up her death. We’re never really told what makes Jasper trust Charlie and vice versa, but Charlie goes along with his plan.

Then there’s the other half of the story, the one in which Charlie actually plays the role of a main character we’re made to care about. He has the hots for Laura’s sister Eliza and they share awkward little bookworm flirtations, pretending they’re urbane Manhattanites (with Truman Capote as their only guide). At home, he dreams about becoming a famous author and tries to understand his parents’ secret miseries. He trades quips with his friend Jeffrey Lu and feels helpless against the small-town racism that Jeffrey and his Vietnamese family have to endure. Because this is happening during the Vietnam War. Oh yeah, why was this set in the 60s, anyway? It was just another piece of the puzzle that didn’t quite fit.

For me, the more cohesive, compelling story was about Charlie coming to terms with his adult self – reconciling his big city dreams with his small Australian town and understanding that his parents never got the chance to do the same. All that good growing up stuff. I get that the actual “Jasper Jones” part of the story was supposed to help him along this path, but it felt more like an out-of-place plot device designed to keep the slower-moving (but I thought, better) story afloat.

The best passage in this book was the oddly arresting cricket scene, in which the eternally enthusiastic outcast Jeffrey finally gets the chance to prove his chops and lead the town to victory, providing a catalyst for Charlie to make the moves on Eliza (all caught up in the moment. Suuure). What does this admittedly awesome scene really have to do with “Jasper Jones?” Well, nothing, but I think it’s another example of how disparate this book’s plot lines were. With scenes like that one, I completely get why people would love this book. But for me, this whole story was the sum of way too many parts.

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11 Responses to “My On/Off Relationship with Jasper Jones”

  1. obsidianrazor May 26, 2010 at 2:37 pm #

    Good review- I was wondering about this book. But I think I’ve been on a coming of age OD right now; I might wait a while.

    • Lija May 27, 2010 at 1:04 pm #

      I’d still recommend it – so many people really loved it!

  2. Jackie (Farm Lane Books) May 26, 2010 at 5:31 pm #

    I’m hoping to read this very soon. I hate cricket so hope that my favourite scene doesn’t involve it! I hope that I enjoy the book more than you did.

    • Lija May 27, 2010 at 1:05 pm #

      I’m no sports buff (and as you can tell, ahem, know nothing about cricket), but that scene was pretty remarkable. Would be interested to see what side of line you fall on with this book.

  3. kimbofo May 26, 2010 at 6:55 pm #

    Great review. You already know my feelings on this one. I think this is a terribly over-rated book, and I really don’t understand all the fuss about it.

    As to a “home run” in cricket-speak, it’s “a six”: that’s when the batsman hits the ball over the boundary without the ball having touched the ground in the process; he automatically gets 6 runs. (If the ball reaches the boundary, but hits the ground en route, that’s four runs). Hereith endeth the cricket lesson. LOL!

    PS> Love your new blog design.

    • Lija May 27, 2010 at 1:10 pm #

      Thanks for the cricket lesson! And now I know. Maybe it’ll come up in a heated game of Trivial Pursuit sometime? I’m enjoying playing around with the wordpress themes at the moment…

      In regards to all the positive reviews, I also wonder if the young adult label is coming into play here – are people possibly giving this a pass because they imagine that a younger audience might enjoy it more than they really did? Not that that’s not true, but it’s hard to judge something based on what other people might like.

  4. savidgereads May 31, 2010 at 6:12 pm #

    Ooooh I like the new look! (This is where you announce that its not new at all, I did pop by on Friday though.) Anyway…

    This book lies unfinished at Savidge Reads HQ I just couldnt work it out, I certainly (no offense to the publishers) don’t get why the hype around it, though I am not sure how well its doing, or is it not quite out yet? Either way wasn’t/isn’t for me but I may try on last time… sometime… just not anytime soon.

    • Lija June 1, 2010 at 2:52 pm #

      Thanks, the theme is relatively new, so you’re not too out of date!

      I think this is one of those instances where I just have to say, different strokes for different folks. A lot of people with tastes similar to mine really liked it, and I can SEE what a lot of the appeal was, I just didn’t feel it myself.

  5. Margo June 1, 2010 at 9:28 pm #

    A coming of age story which climaxes with a cricket scene – hmmm, has someone been reading The Go-Between? (Note: I approve of any potential cribbing off of TGB, it’s the most perfect novel ever, but I disapprove of this book’s shitty production – feels like the pages will fall out any moment).

    • Lija June 2, 2010 at 10:52 am #

      I don’t know about that (I read a review copy). But I think I’ve heard you talk about TGB before! And I know you don’t just mess around with recommendations.

  6. whisperinggums July 7, 2010 at 1:59 pm #

    Ah, great review Lija. You do a lovely job of teasing out its difficulties. Have a look at mine if you like – I was a bit more positive but with reservations nonetheless. (I like coming of age novels too!)

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