Every Fourth Friday of a month I will post a book review. Sometimes it will be a book I read years ago, other times I will have just turned the last page of the novel and feel like writing a review about it.
Today’s novel is one I read five years ago, and it is still one of the best books I’ve read in quite a while. I gave it 5 stars on GoodReads – the review is below. (Note: my own son Jacob is now 15 years old, and my daughter is 10.)
My Review of Defending Jacob by William Landay:
Can you say, with 100 percent conviction, that you would know exactly what you’d do if your fourteen-year-old son was on trial for killing a classmate by stabbing a serrated fighting knife three times into the other boy’s chest? Can you honestly state, without a doubt, that you’d defend your son’s innocence—even if damaging evidence kept piling up—because it is your inherent obligation as a parent to protect your child; to believe your son is telling the truth in critical situations; to know the “real” teen; and most of all, to love your son unconditionally—even if he is accused of murder.
William Landay’s novel Defending Jacob compels you to ponder these questions as the story unfolds of assistant district attorney Andy Barber and his wife Laurie, whose eighth-grade son Jacob is tried as an adult for the murder of fellow student Ben Rifkin in the wealthy suburb of Newton, Massachusetts.
The first thing that attracted me to this book was its title—because I have a 10-year-old son … named Jacob. The synopsis of the story also pulled me in, as I’ve watched many TV interviews of parents whose children (still young or grown) committed murder or some other heinous crime, and I’ve always had mixed emotions about that. On one hand, I love my son and my 5-year-old daughter, yet on the other hand, I wonder how could those parents either continue to claim their son or daughter was innocent, or if they admitted to the child’s guilt, how could the parents still speak of their child in such fond terms or ask others to please not view their child as a monster?
This novel brings home the fact that we parents cannot claim for sure that we would know exactly what we would do if we were placed in the same situation as parents Andy and Laurie Barber or parents Dan and Joan Rifkin, the mom and dad of the murdered boy.
My first reaction when reading Defending Jacob was that I absolutely would believe my own sweet son Jacob to be innocent if he was accused of a crime like this. However, I’m also a former reporter, so my tendency is not to base the majority of my decisions on emotions, but instead on proven facts. Just admitting “out loud” that I can’t say how I’d react makes me feel like such a terrible parent—and the author conveys that both Andy and Laurie at one point or another also experienced this sentiment.
One of the many reasons I liked this book was because I could relate to it on so many levels, such as the relationship and reactions of Andy and Laurie. Just as they thought they knew each other so well, I THINK I know how both my husband and I might react to this situation and to each other in this circumstance, and I THINK I know my husband pretty well since I’ve loved him for more than half my life … but this book really forces you to question just how strong your personal relationships and beliefs are, and just how long would you continue to act one way even when the pressure and evidence pushes you strongly in the opposing direction.
Defending Jacob might fall under the heading of a legal suspense/courtroom drama, but it also could be termed a “relationship novel” or a medical mystery. This book delves into the highly-debated issue of nature versus nurture when investigating whether violence can be an inherited trait, and is there such as thing as “the murder gene.” This novel also focuses heavily on several relationships: the love story between husband and wife Andy and Laurie; the bond between the family unit of Andy, Laurie and Jacob, and the connection (or lack of) between Andy and his dad “Bloody Billy Barber.”
The title doesn’t refer to only defending Jacob in the courtroom, but it also encompasses: the parents defending Jacob from the public’s accusations—the general public, neighbors, school members and students; Andy defending Jacob from Laurie when she (although with much trepidation) considers the possibility Jacob might be guilty; Andy defending Jacob to Jacob’s paternal grandfather Billy; and Andy defending against his own “negative inner thoughts” about whether or not Jacob could have been involved in such a horrific crime, and if Andy’s biological family traits contributed in any way to Jacob’s behavior in the past and present.
Author Landay’s background as a former district attorney is evident in his writing, from the believable courtroom dialogue to how a prosecutor husband would likely speak to his wife or the way a lawyer dad would phrase questions when speaking to his teen son about a crime.
Defending Jacob is a 421-page novel that moved me on so many levels, and it’s a book I would recommend to anyone, regardless if you’re a parent or not, or even if you usually favor other genres. I can say “without a doubt” that I absolutely look forward to reading William Landay’s other books!