Mindy Hardwick's Blog

Author Mindy Hardwick Muses about Writing

Jasper Jones

on March 17, 2012

My YA bookgroup is reading Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey this month.

Jasper Jones is a 2012 Printz Honor Award Book.

I was really excited to read Jasper Jones for many reasons. I first heard about Jasper Jones on the blog, Guys Lit Wire. This is a great blog which features reviews about books for teen boys. When I read about Jasper Jones, I immediately put it on my to-be-read list. But, sometimes it takes the YA Bookgroup choosing a book on my list to get me to move it to the top!

One of the reasons I was really excited to read this book is because I’ve just finished designing two new classes for educators. Books for Boys and Writing with Boys. I’m teaching both through Seattle Pacific University SPIRAL Program as distance learning classes. Educators can register for the classes beginning later this spring. So, I wanted to see if Jasper Jones was indeed a “good book for boys.” And I am happy to report it is an outstanding book for boys. In fact, I immediately added it to the list for the Denney Juvenile Detention Center Poetry and YA Literature workshop.

As a writer, I’m always trying to analyze the craft of the story and ask, Why do I think this is a good (or bad) book?

Jasper Jones is a great book because:

1. Character. I’m a big fan of character driven stories. I don’t care what the plot is, as long as it comes from the character, I’ll usually enjoy the book. But this is not so easy, and this is where nine times out ten, a book falls apart for me. The plot just doesn’t evolve from the characters.  Not so in Jasper Jones. Jasper Jones is a character driven story with a high stakes plot.  A dead body has been found and only two boys know about it–main character Charlie and Jasper Jones. The body is found in Jasper Jone’s special hide-away and he knows the whole town is going to accuse him of the murder. After all, he’s the town’s scapegoat and hard-knock kid who everything gets blamed on.  Right here, I was hooked. Jasper Jones is the kids I know at the detention center.  He’s the kid who has to struggle to survive. The outlaw.  But, this isn’t Jasper’s story, and this is what, I think, makes this book so powerful. Every character has a story. Not just a walk-on part because they are a secondary character. Every character is grappling with something in this story.  And yes, the main characters are Jasper Jones, Charlie and Elza, but there are other characters who reveal themselves to have secrets too. Secrets that get revealed as the story goes along. I think what sets a good story apart from a great story is the ability to bring to life all the characters–not just the main character. This takes layers and layers of revision and work, and it’s a real treat to read a story with strong secondary characters.

2. Dialogue–One of the thing which can make or break a YA or MG book is the dialogue. It’s all too easy to write “adult dialogue” coming out of kid mouth. Not so in Jasper Jones. In Jasper Jones, there were large chunks of the book where Charlie is talking to his best friend, Jeffrey, and I felt as if I was listening in on a very “boy” conversation complete with lingo and dialect.

3. Setting-Setting is another place that often falls apart in YA stories. All too often, the setting in YA is trite. It’s a suburban high school, usually somewhere on the East Coast or in Atlanta. It’s a beach town over the summer, and then none of the description rings true to what it really feels like to live in a beach town. Ever been to the Oregon Coast beaches in the winter? It’s not really a “beach town” in the winter.  Jasper Jones takes place in a small town in Australia. Craig Silvey is Australian, so maybe the book’s setting is a familiar one to him, but it wasn’t to me, and I loved reading about it.

Jasper Jones is easily one of my favorite books that I’ve read in a long time. And as a writer, it’s always inspiring to read a book that reminds me why I wanted to write for kids and teens.

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