Book review: Defending Jacob

Defending Jacob by William Landay is a book about an Assistant District Attorney whose son is accused of murdering a classmate, hence the title.  The book switches between first person narrative and transcripts from the trial.  The book shows how the lives of the parents are absolutely destroyed.  Their friends and neighbors, for the most part, abandon them and they are left questioning, not only whether or not their son is guilty, but whether or not they are responsible.  Was it the dad’s fault because he is descended from murderers?  Was it the mom’s fault because she put the kid in daycare when he was young?  If Jacob is innocent, how do they face him, having thought that he could have possibly done such a thing?  What if he is guilty?  How do they reconcile themselves with the fact that the boy they kissed as a chubby baby could have taken someone’s life?  If they are having doubts about their son’s innocence, are they morally obligated to tell someone about their concerns?  Or, are they morally obligated, as parents, to support and defend their son?

The biggest disappointment of the book was how the author portrayed teenagers.  Yes, teenagers are self-centered and they don’t always speak well, but having ALL of his teen characters use “like” and “you know” in every other sentence was a bit much.  The teen characters in this book had very little personality, except perhaps Jacob, but Jacob is mostly presented as a sullen, withdrawn, spoiled, entitled, brat.  However, the teenage characters play a minor role in the story.  Their role is to present information/evidence that the adults who aren’t computer savvy can’t figure out on their own (this, by the way, I found to be ridiculous because any police force is going to have some sort of cyber crimes unit – the book was published in 2013 – and where teenagers are involved, they’re certainly going to check social media sites like Facebook and Twitter).

This book did a great job of presenting the psychological trauma of the family before, during, and after the trial.  I liked the moral dilemmas that were presented, and seeing how the characters dealt with them.

This was an interesting read and I look forward to reading more of the author’s work.

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