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Books Review: Defending Jacob by William Landay

Part murder mystery, part family drama, Defending Jacob is a must read. Addressing everything from societal ills to familial bonds, this book brings up all sorts of valuable questions that parents grapple with.


What would you do if you thought your child was a murderer? The question seems hypothetical, but in the gripping novel, Defending Jacob, author William Landay poses this very question that some parents must, in fact, confront.

Jacob, a middle school teenager, is accused of murdering a classmate. Until that point, he is a normal suburban teen who lives with his parents in an affluent neighborhood and goes to the local public school. His parents, Andy and Laurie, are involved in his life and in the community. On paper, they are the average American family. Based on this information alone, things just don’t add up.

So, what went wrong? In the book, Laurie asks a consulting psychiatrist, “Do you think I made mistakes? Was there a pattern there that I missed? Was there something more I should have done, if I had been a better mom?” Her painful questions resonated with me; I’d have asked the same in her shoes.

Andy, on the other hand, never questions his parenting or his son’s innocence. He believes that Jacob is innocent and never waivers in his faith. He sees no possibility that Jacob is capable of murder. Furthermore, he is outraged that his son is on trial for the crime.

While Laurie worries about her parenting and what went wrong and Andy tries to find the real murderer to get his son off the hook, other people in their town judge them. Yes, the community feels sorry for the parents and what they have to go through, but they also hold them responsible for raising an alleged murderer. Their accusations conflict with their sympathy and make this book fascinating and compelling to read. Plus, the two parenting styles can be relatable for parent readers; they could be left asking the question “what if?” With so much grey to discuss, it would make a great choice for a book club.

Defending Jacob is relevant to today’s society.  The book tackles hard questions about parents’ responsibility for the bad deeds of their children. The story also addresses the effects of bullying and the impact of the Internet and social networking on teens.

Are parents responsible for their children’s behavior? Defending Jacob does not answer this question, but in posing it, it calls us to answer the question for ourselves.

Eca Taylor is the former circulation specialist for Your Teen Magazine.

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