Our book club met to discuss Defending Jacob the Friday before Mother’s Day, an interesting choice given the mother’s final decision regarding her son!
The book takes place in a small, supposedly family friendly enclave in New England. A 14-year-old boy is found murdered in the park and Andy Barber, the assistant district attorney is called to investigate the crime. He is also the narrator of the story. We learn about Andy’s dysfunctional family which includes a long history of violence through the paternal line. This impacts Andy so greatly that he denies the existence of his father ( who is in prison) and neglects to tell Laurie (his wife) and Jacob (their child) this part of his background. Would Laurie have married him if she had known? Did his denial of this genetic “murder gene” blind him to his son’s tendencies? The investigation finds that Andy’s son had been bullied by the murdered child. The children at Jacob’s school knew Jacob had issues…that kids and animals got hurt around him. Jacob’s mother had a sense that Jacob was different, but there were no therapeutic assessments/interventions for Jacob until he is charged with murder. The book is tightly written, documenting what happens in court and the family’s growing isolation from the neighbors and friends they had known since Jacob was a baby. There are some fascinating twists, and then a growing sense of horror as we learn, after the charges against Jacob have been dropped, that another child who Jacob has befriended has been killed. This is when the mother takes matters into her own hands.
This book raised many discussion points for us: the role of nature vs nurture, can genetics be overcome by diligent parenting? When are the parents absolved of responsibility for their child if they have tried to rear him in a morally responsible way? What causes some difficult children to mature past their maladaptive behaviors, and others not? Would you show support and caring to a fellow parent/friend whose child has been charged with a heinous crime? What happens when bullying behavior is known but not addressed by the adults in charge? How much of our teenagers lives do we really know?
While we might quibble over some not quite believable events ( would the dad really throw away the knife he found in Jacobs’ room….are these the behaviors of 14 year olds, or older children?), we found the book to be an engrossing read and an excellent discussion choice.