This is a great book - one of those ones that you feel a sense of loss when you finish. It's moving and funny and tense in turns, but always utterly compelling.
Charlie Bucktin is a bright 13 year old boy living in a small town in Western Australia in the early 1960s. He has a fraught relationship with his mother, a crush on Eliza Wishart and his best friend Jeffrey Wu is a hilariously funny Vietnamese refugee. Late one night, Jasper Jones, the half-aboriginal town "bad boy" knocks on his window and asks for his help. Jasper is trying to avoid getting accused of a crime that he says he didn't commit. Charlie helps him, but now he's saddled with a dark secret, which is gnawing away at him.
It's hard to summarize this book because it's so many things. It includes a mystery, romance, peer pressure, racism, hypocrisy, abuse, marital problems and a searing sense of place. It's been described as an Australian version of "To Kill A Mockingbird" and indeed it often (somewhat heavy handedly) references that novel, as well as Mark Twain. The mystery is the central plot which gradually unfolds, but along the way Charlie learns that there are many other secrets hiding in this town and that life is more complicated than he formerly realized. An outstanding book.