Having his novel favourably compared with "To Kill a Mockingbird" did not hurt Craig Silvey's chances of taking out two important literary awards – the ABIA Book of the year and winner of the Booksellers' Choice. Set in the Deep South of Australia in the 'seventies in the small hamlet of Corrigan, racial discrimination and child abuse make interesting bedfellows.
This is small town intrigue at its best, and occasionally inhabiting one such town in coastal Queensland, I recognise a few of the characters. One does not have to know individual townsfolk intimately to know their foibles; gossip helps fill in the gaps. Even then, there must be some secrets which would make the basis of a gripping novel such as this.
Charlie Bucktin is what we would call a nerd in today's parlance. As such, he is the butt of some very cruel mental and physical torture from some with far lesser intellects. His parents aren't the most supportive in the world, for various reasons, so he keeps his sanity by having a friendship with Jeffrey Wu. Jeffrey is a brilliant cricketer, but the fact that he is Vietnamese keeps him off the district team. Nevertheless, he doggedly keeps on practising with the assistance of the less than athletic Charlie.
The interaction between these two characters makes for the lighter side of what could be a rather depressing tale. I don't think the author has left his young teenage years too far behind him, as the repartee of Charlie and Jeffrey illustrates. Both have a much higher than average intellect. Their friendship is tested, but true camaraderie shines through.
The disappearance of the daughter of the town councillor, Wishart, is pivotal to the plot. It draws many characters together, some for the first time. These are the days when the local sergeant of police would give you a good kick up the backside as a way of pulling you into line. Anyone of Aboriginal descent would be first in that line. Consequently Jasper Jones, whose mother was Aboriginal, is prime suspect for Laura Wishart's disappearance. The Wu family are collateral damage because they too have skin of a different colour.
Although they have never had a relationship, Jasper Jones seeks out Charlie's help, recognising something in his character that few others would. This happens quite early in the book, and then the plot takes off at breakneck speed. This is one of those novels when you keep saying to yourself, just one more chapter and I'll turn out the light.
As well as assisting Jasper in his quest to stay out of gaol, Charlie also helps him connect to his past, one of many instances where the motto never judge a book by its cover is illustrated. Charlie's mother is leading a double life, and Councillor Wishart is not the upstanding citizen voted into his important community position.
Just a few ends are tied in this novel. One of the boys gets his girl and a sportsman is recognised for his ability. As for the fate of Jasper Jones, and the punishment of the guilty, I myself think there is an element of Gone with the Wind in the last few chapters.