Overall Impressions: This was a very well-written coming-of-age story that really swung for the fences. I love YA novels that makes a statement, and Jasper Jones certainly does that.
Why I Read This Book: I’d heard great things about this book. It’s by an Australian author, and I read any book with buzz by an Australian author anymore; I don’t know what’s in the water there, but Australians can write.
Recommended for Writers Researching: coming-of-age stories, intolerance in small towns, Australia, Aboriginal characters, use of literature in books, stories of first love, the Vietnam War-era, authentic voice, sidekicks.
It’s all about the dialogue! The dialogue between Charlie and his best friend, Jeffrey Lu, was crass, politically incorrect and, to some readers, probably bordering on offensive. It was also the completely authentic voice of two teenage boys. Even though the language was a little more literate and a little less lowbrow than how most teenagers talk, even in the 60s, it was consistently hilarious and even, at times, sweet. The character of Jeffrey Lu is almost entirely developed through dialogue; this is a great reminder that “showing, not telling” can be accomplished without even a line of exposition.
Subtle historical fiction. I didn’t know this book was historical fiction until probably 100 pages in. I thought this was a smart move, because the book is really about how intolerance can permeate any society as all societies contain the same ingredients—people. The historical details were authentic in their understatement and didn’t seem over-researched. As a writer, I find historical fiction really daunting because of the amount of research that would be required; Jasper Jones has taught me that a book set in history doesn’t need to be dripping with historical details, and you as the author don’t need a PhD in the time period you’re writing about.
Develop extreme characters deeply. One thing that rubbed me the wrong way about Jasper Jones was protagonist Charlie’s mother. She was consistently shrill, unreasonable, and verbally abusive. All this was delivered with a tone of normalcy, and Charlie’s father often told him to just “stay quiet and let her win.” She really irritated me, but it would’ve been fine if there’d been some attempt to develop why she was that way. She comes with little backstory and doesn’t evolve; as a reader, it’s very difficult to accept such an abrasive character with such little development. Many adult characters, including Charlie’s mother, exemplified the town’s over-arching problem of adults acting unreasonably because of inadequacies in their own lives. This was, overall, a pretty effective message. Still, the author put so much effort into making the mother so nauseatingly unpleasant, it seems like she should’ve served a larger purpose.
What to do with overly sporty language? There is cricket in this book. There is a lot of cricket in this book. And, even though I don’t know a thing about cricket, I was generally able to sift some sense out of the cricket-heavy scenes (I found the big cricket match completely thrilling). But, there were definitely times when I didn’t have a clue what was being described because I didn’t understand the terminology or how the game works. This is one of those very tricky areas where authenticity to characters’ voices may alienate some readers. The author took a calculated risk and, though my personal reading experience would have been improved had the terminology been explained, I completely understand the decision to air on the side of authentic voice.