Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

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Genre: Realistic/historical fiction

A 2012 Michael Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature Honor Book

Jasper Jones was one of those books I wanted to start recommending before I had finished reading. This is what young adult fiction should be.

Jasper Jones is the store of Charlie, a teenage boy growing up in a small Australian mining town in the 1960s (of particular interest to me as my sister currently lives in a small, rural Australian mining town). When the town delinquent, Jasper Jones, shows up at his window one night, Charlie makes the pivotal choice to follow him, and as a result becomes caught up in…well, a lot. A town scandal/mystery. A personal and moral crisis. A search for justice on many levels. The solution to the book’s mystery won’t leave anyone reeling, but by the end, everything has come together so gracefully it feels satisfactory. The writing is beautiful, descriptive and readable.

The novel covers so much – stereotypes, discrimination (Charlie’s best friend is Vietnamese in a time when anti-Vietnam War sentiments are coming to a head), trust, love, friendship, courage, loyalty, parent-child relationships – and does it brilliantly, with some sports-based suspense thrown in for good measure. The characters feel real. They have real conversations. Charlie’s inner monologue is authentic and eloquent. It is, in many ways, an homage to that most teachable of all books, To Kill a Mockingbird, and it is worthy of that job (this is intentional, as Mockingbird and other great works of American literature are mentioned throughout. It covers much of the same ground – small-town life, crime, a kind father and the protagonist’s relationship wit him, a town recluse, etc.).

The book is best for high schooler’s especially juniors and seniors, as it does contain objectionable language and covers some difficult subjects, such as sexual abuse, several mentions of sexual topics, etc. I highly recommend you preview it mostly because it’s such a great read anyway.

Teaching resources:

Interview with Craig Silvey  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2XuV6dY-n8U

Compulsive Reader Talks interview with Silvey (#35): https://itunes.apple.com/ie/podcast/interview-gail-jones-mar-21/id295193209?i=92342345

History.com’s information about the Vietnam War: http://www.history.com/topics/vietnam-war

An explanation of cricket: http://www.cs.purdue.edu/homes/hosking/cricket/explanation.htm

National Geographic’s Australia page: http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/countries/australia-guide/

The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network: http://www.rainn.org/

Sample essay prompts based on past AP Exam essay prompts:

1. A bildungsroman, or coming-of-age novel, recounts the psychological or moral development of its protagonist from youth to maturity, when this character recognizes his or her place in the world. Select a single pivotal moment in the psychological or moral development of the protagonist of Jasper Jones. Then write a well-organized essay that analyzes how that single moment shapes the meaning of the work as a whole.

2. In a novel by William Styron, a father tells his son that life “is a search for justice.” Choose a character from Jasper Jones who responds in some significant way to justice or injustice. Then write a well-developed essay in which you analyze the character’s understanding of justice, the degree to which the character’s search for justice is successful, and the significance of this search for the work as a whole. Do not merely summarize the plot.

3. In The Writing of Fiction (1925), novelist Edith Wharton states the following:

At every stage in the progress of his tale the novelist must rely on what may be called the illuminating incident to reveal and emphasize     the inner meaning of each situation. Illuminating incidents are the magic casements of fiction, its vistas on infinity.

Write a well-organized essay in which you describe an “illuminating” episode or moment in Jasper Jones and explain how it functions as a “casement,” a window that opens onto the meaning of the work as a whole. Avoid mere plot summary.

Please leave questions, comments, book review requests, etc. below!

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