Frightful Friday: Defending Jacob by William Landay

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week.

The featured book this week is Defending Jacob by William Landay

  • Hardcover:432 pages
  • Publisher:Delacorte Press (January 31, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0385344228
  • Source: Publisher (BEA)

Every parent likes to believe they know their child: what kind of person they are, what they are/are not capable of. What happens when it turns out that you didn’t know your child quite as well as you believed?

Andy Barber is a well-respected Assistant District Attorney in the small Massachusetts down where he, his son Jacob, and his wife Laurie reside. They are your typical suburban family, content with their lives.

One morning things change.  A boy who attends the same middle school as Jacob is found murdered, stabbed to death on a path in the woods that leads to the school. Since it has the potential to be a high-profile case, Andy accepts the case. He joins the police in interviewing the students about the deceased. One individual suggests he check out what is being said about the crime on Facebook. When he does, he sees that Jacob’s best friend implicates Jacob in the crime, reporting to have seen him with a knife. He takes this news at face value: it appears to be just a bunch of kids posting their opinions on social media. Nothing to be worried about. Yet, he’s completely shocked by what happens next: Jacob is arrested for the murder. For obvious reasons, Andy is put on paid leave, removed from the case completely.

As the case builds and evidence is introduced, the Barber family begins to become unraveled. Andy and Laurie want to stand behind their son, want to believe he’s innocent of the crime. When Andy reveals a secret about his own family it all begins to crumble away. Andy & Laurie, normally an extremely close couple, begin to become strangers to one another. They, Laurie in particular, looks back at Jacob’s childhood. Were there any indicators that he may predisposed to this sort of anger?

In a whirlwind court case, Andy and Laurie stay by their son’s side, posing a united front, at least in appearances. In the back of their minds, they can’t help put wonder: How well do I know my child? Just how far will I go to protect him?

Defending Jacob is without a doubt one of the most suspenseful, emotionally-tolling books I have read in some time. As the mother of a middle-schooler myself, I couldn’t help but wonder what I would do in the Barber’s place? Just like the Barber’s, I believe I know my child. Yet this book inspired me to learn more about my own child, the emotions he’s feeling, the relationships he has at school. It generated quite a lengthy, but healthy and important discussion with my son, one that will continue.  Assuming life is grand, everything is perfect isn’t the way to live life, as the Barber’s unfortunately learn.

What was truly memorable about this book was the way Landay was able to pace, to portray, the unraveling of the Barber family. Laurie was always the one people turned to when they had a problem, she always had a perfect demeanor and could withstand anything. The true impact of the trail is unveiled through Laurie and the physical and emotional toll it takes on her. Throughout the book, Andy comments on this:

“She had lost so much weight that her hipbones protruded, and when we were together she spoke less and less. In spite of it all, I never softened in my determination to save Jacob first and heal Laurie later.”

And later during the trial:

 “She never stopped defending Jacob, never stopped analyzing the chessboard, calculating every move and countermove. She never stopped protecting him, even in the end.

This last line plays a very poignant role in this storyline, sort of a foreshadowing of what is to come.

Bottom line: Defending Jacob is a tremendous read: memorable, thought-provoking, intense. I stayed up until the wee hours of the night to finish this one; I couldn’t bear to step away once I got involved in this story. This is a book that will resonate within you, change your perceptions of life and love, forever. Without a doubt, this book will be added to my favorites of 2012 list. Highly, highly recommended.

7 Comments to "Frightful Friday: Defending Jacob by William Landay"

  1. Kay's Gravatar Kay
    February 3, 2012 - 9:39 AM | Permalink

    I finished this one last night and wrote about it early this morning. I felt so emotionally vested in this book and absolutely inhaled it. I will freely say that I hated the ending – the shocker ending. I know that it will stay with me for a long, long time. I’ll be thinking about the moral issues and though I not a fan of the way the story concluded, I will say that I freely recommend the book. It is very, very thought provoking and would be an excellent book club read. Sigh. What would you do if it was your kid? I think I know, but maybe I don’t.

  2. Laura @ I'm Booking It's Gravatar Laura @ I'm Booking It
    Twitter: bookingit
    February 3, 2012 - 11:15 AM | Permalink

    I read this last year, and was absolutely blown away. It made my top 10 list of 2011, in spite of not coming out until this year. Great review, you really got at what made it work so well.

  3. Alan Orloff's Gravatar Alan Orloff
    Twitter: alanorloff
    February 3, 2012 - 11:30 AM | Permalink

    This is a great book, and I don’t think I’m going out on a very long limb to predict a lot of awards for it!

  4. bermudaonion (Kathy)'s Gravatar bermudaonion (Kathy)
    Twitter: bermudaonion
    February 3, 2012 - 2:32 PM | Permalink

    A friend of mine raves about this book – she said she couldn’t put it down.

  5. Dawn - She Is Too Fond of Books's Gravatar Dawn - She Is Too Fond of Books
    Twitter: toofondofbooks
    February 3, 2012 - 10:13 PM | Permalink

    The pacing is truly masterful. Chilling, indeed!

  6. rhonda's Gravatar rhonda
    February 5, 2012 - 9:50 PM | Permalink

    I couldn’t put it down.Its emotionaly involving. And as a parent upsetting.If I had been in their shoes what would we have done and I also am married to a lawyer who was a prosecutor. And then defense and I have watched families suffer through trials of their child even murder trials horrific to witness.I would advise any parent to always be involved always know your child’s friends and have constant. Conversationd.

  7. February 20, 2012 - 1:06 PM | Permalink

    I agree that Landay does include some foreshadowing on Laurie throughout the book and in a way I wasn’t too shocked with the ending. I thought this book had similar themes to Helen Schulman’s “This Beautiful Life”.

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