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Here it is: the Jewish counterpart to all those painful coming-of-age novels set in stifling Catholic schools, starring tyrannical nuns. In The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green, first-time novelist Braff offers a sad, sometimes funny, always powerful look at one Jewish boy whose youth is made miserable by a selfish father, a weak mother, and the endless demands of a Jewish education.
The second of three children, Jacob's world is the New Jersey suburbs of the 1970s. His father, Abram, is overly concerned with his image and hosts parties for the sole purpose of delivering speeches to his guests, using a microphone to introduce the members of his "perfect" family. Jacob's mother heads back to school to escape Abram's bullying, and Jacob's older brother rebels, turning to alcohol. But Jacob hates to see his family unraveling and still craves his father's approval -- something difficult for to attain as the learning-disabled Jacob struggles with his schoolwork.
Can Jacob assume the role of the obedient son, as his father desires? Or will he, too, find a way to escape his life, as his mother and brother have? Braff's unusual account of the life of Jacob Green is an exceptional story of a boy simply trying to do the best he can, and a stellar first effort by a talented novelist. (Holiday 2004 Selection)
A witty, sensitive boy observes the darkly humorous goings-on in his Orthodox Jewish family in 1970s New Jersey. Jacob Green idolizes his older brother, Asher, and misses his withdrawn mother, Claire, but his father, the charismatic, tyrannical Abram, dominates the family. At 10, Jacob's unthinkable sin of forgetting to wear his tzitzit to yeshiva sets off an amusing chain of events Asher's scheming to trick the rabbi, the destruction of the rabbi's tzitzit and Jacob's suspension that quickly turns sober when Jacob faces his father's rage. At 13, Jacob lives in a state of anxiety his learning disability and his father's resulting disappointment erode his confidence; Asher withdraws into adolescence; his mother flees the house to pursue a Ph.D. and another man. Jacob would love to rebel (he's got "a father so far up my ass you can see him performing in my pupils"), but mostly he mentally rewrites his bar mitzvah thank-yous as rants and fantasizes about his live-in babysitter, Megan. When Claire and Abram divorce and Megan moves out, Jacob conveys his angst through a series of letters addressed to Megan. By the time he's 15, Jacob is painfully lonely, as he shuttles between his father's oppressiveness and his mother's honeymooning obliviousness. Although Jacob is a likable, funny narrator, his keen observation and vibrant imagination falter under the weight of Abram's presence and Claire's absence. Agent, Sonia Pabley. (Sept. 10) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Pity Jacob Green: He worships his rebellious artist older brother, Asher. He lusts in his heart (and loins) for his shiksa goddess nanny, Megan. And he stews in a volatile marinade of fear, adoration, and resentment of his alternately loving and tyrannical father, Abram, whose constant demands for perfection in all matters-from personal appearance to the crafting of thank-you notes for Bar Mitzvah presents-cause his family to implode. Each episode of Jacob's mortifyingly funny struggles to find the correct responses to Abram's commands, while following his own internal compass, explodes with hilarity even as it brings a lump to the throat. Braff's mastery of the set piece is a mixed blessing: Asher and Jacob's expulsion from their yeshiva, Abram's over-the-top family theatricals, and Jacob's sexual encounter with Megan are such memorable, powerful scenes that they render the narrative a bit too choppy. Still, Jacob's clear, sympathetic voice is irresistible, and one of the book's richest rewards is the unmasking of the fearsome, abusive Abram as not so much a monster as a pitiable, petulant child in the body of a respected adult. Sexually frank and ferociously skeptical of religious and parental authority, this novel will find fans among more mature readers whose taste runs to memoirs such as This Boy's Life by Tobias Wolff (Atlantic Monthly, 1989/VOYA February 1990) or novels like Myla Goldberg's Bee Season (Doubleday, 2000) and Chaim Potok's My Name Is Asher Lev (Knopf, 1972), but who are not quite ready for Philip Roth. VOYA CODES: 4Q 3P S A/YA (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult-marketed bookrecommended for Young Adults). 2004, Algonquin, 255p., Ages 15 to Adult.
Adult/High School-Jacob's unthinkable thoughts are typical of many adolescents, and some might even be considered unprintable. They are also extremely funny and poignant. His father, who is obsessively anxious to be seen as the head of a perfect Jewish family, is acutely conscious of his background and resents the fact that his parents didn't raise him with knowledge of his faith and heritage. He is determined to make this up in his children's education, forging ahead with this plan (and so many others) with little concern for the feelings or interests of his children or his wife, who ultimately leaves. He has already alienated the boy's older brother, Asher, and 11-year-old Jacob becomes the "good son," who "reads Hebrew so beautifully it'll make you cry." Jacob's thoughts progress from the relatively innocent desire to skip Hebrew school to the erotic when he watches television curled up with the au pair. He loves his father, understands his mother, and idolizes Asher, fantasizing that he can escape with him as he enters college, even figuring out what train to take and how to pay for it all. Yet as the novel ends, 15-year-old Jacob is still shuttling between his mother's home and his father's increasing desire for perfection in his environs. The teen's life is difficult and his relationships conflicted, but he does not whine, moving through it all doing the best he can. A funny and thought-provoking coming-of-age journey.-Susan H. Woodcock, Fairfax County Public Library, Chantilly, VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Scarifyingly funny debut limns a suburban boy's struggle to cope with the Jewish Father from Hell. The ghastly housewarming party he throws when they move to Piedmont, New Jersey, in 1977 tells us almost everything we need to know about Abe Green in the nine opening pages. He's overbearing, he's needy, and he flashes his family's accomplishments as if they were credentials. (Jacob "reads Hebrew so beautifully it'll make you cry," Dara "swims like a fish . . . always top three," etc.) As Jacob narrates the story from his 10th to 15th years, we see the grim effects of Abe's compulsive personality. He's an insane perfectionist; after Jacob's bar mitzvah, the boy has to write 20 thank-yous a night, "each note will be individually checked for proper spelling, grammar, syntax, and word choice," and when the poor kid falls short, Abe throws his usual screaming tantrum. He never actually hits anyone, but the verbal and psychological abuse are truly scary. Wife Claire finally has enough and moves out in 1981-of course, Abe demands joint custody. The author realistically shows Claire as a loving mother who nonetheless fails her children by being too occupied by her new marriage and career to fully protect them from Abe. Eldest son Asher simply defies Dad, but Jacob can't so quickly reject a man whose love he feels even as it drives him to desperation. In the most brutally funny scene here, Abe "apologizes" for the thank-you card tantrum while driving Jacob to the hospital (he's broken his wrist smashing a wall), then begins chattering about plans for an Annie Hall party while his white-lipped son counts the blocks to the ER. Though Jacob learns near story's end he that can't depend on Asher torescue him, there's no real resolution in this primal scream ripped from adolescence: it's just painfully honest and surprisingly compassionate. Compulsively readable, in a horrifying sort of way. What will Braff do next now that he's got that off his chest? Author tour. Agent: Sonia Pabley/Rosenstone & Wender