A 2012 Michael L. Printz Honor Book
Charlie Bucktin, a bookish thirteen year old, is startled one summer night by an urgent knock on his bedroom window. His visitor is Jasper Jones, an outcast in their small mining town, and he has come to ask for Charlie's help. Terribly afraid but desperate to impress, Charlie follows him into the night.
Jasper takes him to his secret glade, where Charlie witnesses Jasper's horrible discovery. With his secret like a brick in his belly, Charlie is pushed and pulled by a town closing in on itself in fear and suspicion. He locks horns with his tempestuous mother, falls nervously in love, and battles to keep a lid on his zealous best friend. In the simmering summer where everything changes, Charlie learns why the truth of things is so hard to know, and even harder to hold in his heart.
Australian author Silvey wears his influences (notably To Kill a Mockingbird) a little too obviously on his sleeve in a novel about crime, race, and growing up in a 1960s Australian mining town. Charlie, 13, is woken up on a hot summer night by teenage outcast Jasper, who wants to show him something secret. That secret turns out to be the dead body of Laura Wishart, Jasper's occasional paramour and the older sister of Charlie's own crush, Eliza. The boys, assuming that Jasper will be blamed, hide the body, and Laura's disappearance combines with the boys' guilt and lies to create an ongoing spiral of stress. The town of Corrigan is rife with racism, which is directed mainly at the half-aboriginal Jasper and Charlie's Vietnamese best friend, Jeffrey. The banter between Jeffrey and Charlie drives the novel's lighter scenes, but can distract, feeling more like Tarantinoesque pop culture asides than anything else. Still, when Silvey, making his U.S. debut, focuses on the town's ugly underbelly, as well as the troubles in Charlie's family, the novel is gripping enough to overcome its weaknesses. Ages 12 up.
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