This was some book. It dealt with some very serious topics - there’s a girl who’s been killed and beaten, and a town with incredible prejudice against people who are looked on as “outsiders.” And yet, sometimes it was laugh-out-loud funny. And it worked perfectly together.
Jasper Jones takes place during the 1960s in Australia. Jasper Jones is half aborigine. His mother is dead and his father is a drunk. Jasper Jones is looked on with suspicion wherever he goes. If something goes wrong in town, it’s assumed Jasper Jones did it. If a child does something naughty, he must have been with Jasper Jones. The reason people seem to look at him this way is not because his father is a drunk, but because he had an aborigine mother. When Jasper Jones is taken in for questioning by the police, he’s kept in jail and beaten, and there’s no one he can go to for help.
Charlie’s best friend Jeffery and his family are Vietnamese. They also face a lot of prejudice. Jeffery is an incredible cricket player, but isn’t allowed to play on the cricket team. The other kids taunt him, and sometimes it’s not just kids. Jeffery’s mother and father also face the distrust and blame of the town. They are looked on as someone to blame, when jobs are lost or a child dies in Vietnam.
The main plot of the story is the death of Laura. Jasper Jones has Charlie help him hide the body. He knows if the police find it he’ll be blamed. Jasper Jones wants a chance to find her killer. Charlie has never had to deal with anything like this before. He’s been very sheltered, and now is dealing with the guilt of knowing where Laura is as everyone looks for her. To make things worse, Charlie has a crush on Eliza, Laura’s sister.
I loved, loved absolutely loved the back and forth banter between Charlie friend Jeffery. It was absolutely hysterical. There were so many moments that I thought were just perfect middle school boy. Like, this is TOTALLY what middle school boys talk about amongst themselves. There was a wonderful moment when Charlie and Jeffery and giving each other situations and asking which they’d rather. One was, “would you rather wear a hat of poisonous spiders or have penises for fingers?” Shortly after, when Charlie is talking to Eliza and she ask him to make her laugh, he blanks and finds himself saying, “Would you rather wear a hat of spiders or have penises for fingers?” I laughed out loud for about a minute. Luckily Eliza laughed too.
Jeffery is very in to cricket. My understanding of cricket is this: they wear all white, which seems impractical, and it’s a sport that involves a tea break. I once had cricket explained to me like this: The batter wants the wicket to stay up. The bowler disagrees. There was a lot of cricket talk, and the game that Jeffery plays in is described in detail. Like, play-by-play detail. I enjoyed reading it, even though I didn’t really understand what was going on, because you know how important it is for Jeffery to do well so you’re rooting for him.
There are two rather dramatic reveals at the end. One, of course, about what really happened to Laura, which worked perfectly and was very sad. There was also a surprise reveal that I never saw coming about Jasper Jones himself and his family history.
I think I would recommend this for 8th grade and up. I went back and forth a bit. It’s written on a middle school level, but I would be hesitant to recommend it to many middle school students because it is pretty descriptive when talking about Laura and her death and when Charlie sees her hanging from the tree for the first time. So in general, I think I would find myself recommending it to older students, I think it has older appeal as well, and use your discretion when recommending it to younger kids.