I love reading books about Australia that focus on the intimate and detailed – the scorching heat in summer and how it keeps you awake until the early hours of the morning, the boredom one feels during the school holidays where you repeat the same tired hobbies, and how the friendships you make when you’re in early adolescence are the most profound.
Craig Silvey achieves this beautiful feat in Jasper Jones. We open in Corrigan in the 1960’s, a small Australian town where everybody knows everybody, and unfortunately, being of a different race makes you stand out like the moon in a pitch black sky. Much like classics such as To Kill a Mockingbird, the moral teachings in these books have more relevance today than I’m sure most of us would like to admit.
Charlie, our protagonist, is a white Australian and despite being bullied relentlessly, he is safe from racial prejudice. The same can’t be said for Jasper Jones. A young man of mixed race, with part Aboriginal heritage, he is an outcast, and is blamed for every possible thing that goes wrong in Corrigan. Someone’s kid is caught stealing? Jasper Jones forced them to do it. His race, mixed in with absent parents and no money, make Jasper the target for ridiculous rumours and vicious lies that plague his existence.
But Jasper Jones is not the only character who endures systematic racism that we’re exposed to in this novel. Charlie’s best friend, Jeffrey Lu, a Vietnamese boy who lives down the street from Charlie with his parents, is hurled horrible racist slurs, and is constantly rejected by the cricket team, despite having more talent in his pinkie finger than the entire team has in their bodies combined.
So there you have it: Corrigan. Not exactly a welcoming place if you’re even remotely different from being a white Australian. And then we have Charlie. A nerd, a booklover, his only real friend being the officious Jeffrey Lu, constantly clashing with his overbearing mother, until one day his routine is shattered and replaced by grief, unimaginable anxiety, his innocence well and truly destroyed.
If you think that sounds dramatic, then just read the book and you’ll understand what I’m referring to. Charlie is minding his own business when none other than the infamous Jasper Jones himself comes to Charlie’s window late at night. Charlie only knows Jasper from afar, and from his less-than-virtuous reputation. Jasper begs Charlie to sneak out of his house and go with him because he has something to show him, something that will change all of their lives forever.
Jasper Jones is a highly acclaimed Australian novel and it’s not hard to understand why. When I heard it was being made into a film, I jumped with joy; I couldn’t wait for the scenes I had imagined in my mind to be played out on screen. I was not disappointed. Getting premiere tickets as a Christmas present, I was front and centre at the premiere at the Orpheum Theatre in Cremorne on the 20th of February.
We open with Charlie and Jeffrey having their iconic conversation: Who is the best superhero? Superman or Batman? They argue whilst spitting watermelon seeds on Charlie’s mother’s hung up washing. Hilarious and innocent, and mirroring the book so effortlessly, I buried down in my seat and enjoyed all the highs and lows of this hilarious and heart breaking coming-of-age story.
I yearned for more of the back stories in certain instances; the two big reveals came and went a little too swiftly for my liking, but as they are seriously heavy topics, I can understand why the filmmakers wanted to breeze past the nitty-gritty. Aside from this, it was perfection. The casting was so on point I wanted to kiss the casting director, the setting was exactly how I’d pictured it in the book, and the relationships between the characters were almost an exact replica of the relationships that Silvey had written.
I would highly recommend not only reading Jasper Jones, but watching it when it officially comes out in cinemas on the 27th of February. You won’t be disappointed.
P.S. Batman is the greatest superhero.