Craig Silvey's novel has been hailed as the 'To Kill a Mockingbird' of Australian literature, and rightfully so as the much-awarded novel is poignant, at times laugh-out-loud hilarious, and leaves you with the dazed afterglow that only comes of a truly great book.
Jasper Jones himself is not the voice of the novel, but he is the central cause of protagonist Charlie Bucktin's tumult. An outsider in the small community, he comes to Charlie in the dead of the night with a secret that changes their lives and their town forever.
Charlie's cricket-mad best friend Jeffrey is the kind of friend every kid (and adult) wants to have; he is at once familiar and unexpected, perfectly believable and refreshingly resilient. One of my favourite scenes between the two is their seemingly longstanding Superman vs Spiderman debate, peppered with the light insults boys throw at each other and containing some pretty flawless arguments on the merits of each and the criteria of superhero-dom. Were he a less tactful writer Silvey's gentle metaphor could here have here soured the boys' relationship, but as it is Charlie's winning argument on Batman's behalf serves as an undercurrent for the kind of courage Charlie must summon in the remainder of the book; 'He fights for Truth and Justice. He has arch enemies. And he does all this without any weird mutations. He's just really determined. That's what makes him interesting. The fact that with enough dedication and desire, we could all be Batman. Batmen. Batpeople. And that's what makes him the best.'
This book should not be given to kids lightly, as it confronts issues of racism, abuse and suicide. Silvey does not patronise his audience by glossing over the grief, but allows us to struggle with the full weight of the book's events alongside thirteen-year-old Charlie.