It's 1977. Jacob Green, a Jewish kid from suburban New Jersey, sits on the stairs during his family's housewarming party, waiting for his father, Abramcharming host, everyone's best friend, and amateur emceeto introduce him to the crowd. Housewarming parties, Annie Hall parties, and bar mitzvah parties punctuate Jacob's childhood and require command performances by all the Green family members. But when the confetti settles and the drapes are drawn, the affable Abram Green becomes an egotistical tyrant whose emotional rages rupture the lives of his family.
Jacob doesn't mean to disappoint his father, but he can't help thinking the most unthinkable (and very funny) thoughts about public-school humiliation, Hebrew-school disinclination, and in-home sex education (with the live-in nanny!). If only his mother hadn't started college at thirty-six (and fallen for her psychology professor). If only he were more like his rebellious older brother (suspended from Hebrew school for drawing the rabbi in a threesome with a lobster and a pig). If only Jacob could confront his overbearing father and tell him he doesn't want to sing in synagogue, attend est classes, write the perfect thank-you note, or even live in the same house with Abram Green. But, of course, he can't. That would be unthinkable.
This self-assured, comic, yet piercing first novel deftly captures the struggle of an imperfect boy trying to become a suitable son.
About the Author
Joshua Braff the author of The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green, lives in California with his wife and two children.
Read an Excerpt
I sit halfway up the staircase and listen to no one in particular. There are fifty-three people standing in the wide front hall of this new house. I counted. There are even more in the living room and some outside on an eating tour of the raspberry bushes. They keep arriving. Some carry wine bottles but most have flowerpots or tinfoil plates; the Litmans brought a Bible wrapped in newspaper comics. It’s weird that a house full of people can sound like one thick and rumbled voice; a bass-y group chant that coughs here and there. Some of them have much smaller heads than others. Like the difference between cantaloupes and apples. I close my right eye and pick some of the fruit with my thumb and index finger. Pluck. Squish.
A “housewarming” party is what my father calls this one. The six of us are up before the sun: vacuuming, hiding unpacked boxes, calling to confirm the Saran-Wrapped platters and ice-sculpted G. Every friend he’s ever made is invited, along with a dozen or more colleagues from the firm, temple congregants, new neighbors, and a waitress named Patty who served us the night before at the Ground Round.
My father wheels his tiny amp into the front hall. It makes a zapping noise as he kneels to plug it in. When he stands, he slaps the knees of his slacks and calls us over for a look before the introductions. Asher nearly passes but for his ratty brown hair that he likes to let hang in his eyes. He doesn’t brush it on purpose, like he thinks he’s one of the Sex Pistols. I happen to know he’s got his “Eat Shit!” T-shirt under his striped
button-down. He flashed me a peek as I struggled with my tie. My father removes a comb from his pocket and walks toward my brother.
“I’ll do it,” Asher says annoyed, taking it from my father’s hand. Asher gets a stare for being aggressive but it ends quickly: there’s a show to do. Dara does okay. She’s got a loosened bow on the back of her yellow party dress and gets accused of cereal breath, but it’s not a bad showing. My father spins her to retie the floppy bow, his brow ridge crinkled as if defusing a bomb. I do poorly. My tie is so askew that it needs to be removed like a snapped whip before being redone. From his knees, my father’s nose nearly touches mine and I can see his bearded jaw beginning to churn with impatience. I keep my eyes lowered and my breath held; I too had Cheerios within the half hour. When he finishes he gets to his feet and begins to untangle the microphone wire.
“Daddy?” Dara says.
“What is it?”
“I have to go to the bathroom.” She is five.
He jiggles and tightens the knot of his tie and releases a long breath with his eyes closed. He then points his chin outward to get some slack in the skin of his neck. “Asher . . . where’s Asher?”
“I’m right behind you.”
“Make sure the mike stays plugged in. If you want to tape it, fine, just do what you have to do to make it stay, all right? I want to avoid any of that buzzing or . . . or what’s that . . . ?”
“Right. That.” He holds his dark frames in the air looking for smudges. “Remember the last time? Couldn’t even hear the opener.”
“Give it a try,” Asher says from his knees.
My father puts his glasses back on and lifts the mike to his lips. “Hello, hello.”
Dozens of heads turn our way. I get butterfly stings in my gut as some of the eyes meet mine. I wipe my palms on my new checkered pants and stand with my shoulders square. I’ll just wave, I tell myself, then step behind Asher. At the “moving to Piedmont” party I chose to salute the audience just before my wave. It was a last-second decision that I wish I hadn’t made. My father said it was “flip” and “discourteous to veterans” and made me apologize to Eli Gessow because his son served in Vietnam. Eli said he was in the crapper during the introductions and couldn’t hear a word. He then kissed my forehead really hard and told me to get him some more lox.
“Okay, let’s try it. Jacob, Dara, come stand by me. Enough, Asher, it sounds fine, up off the floor now. Let’s see some smiles, yes? They’re here for you. The Greens are in town today, right? Here we go now. Here we go.” My father lifts the mike to his chin. “Hello and welcome to our new home.”
“If I could have-what? Can’t hear? Can I-can I have everyone’s attention for a moment? Hello. Hi. Thank you, hello. Just settle down for a second or two. I want-thank you, Judith. Judith Meyer, ladies and gentlemen, helping me quiet the troops.” He blows Judith a kiss. “Can you all hear me? Can I be heard?” he says, and taps the head of the microphone.
“Can’t hear you,” says a voice from somewhere in the living room.
“Okay, how about now?” he says louder.
“All right. Hello and welcome. I-please, I need it quiet. I’m not sure if everyone can hear me. I see a thumbs up. Does that mean you can hear me, Liv? Okay. Thank you. If-no, no, still no? Perfect? Okay, here we go. Jacob?”
I step forward and wave.
“No!” he says, covering the mike. “I haven’t introduced you yet. Where’s your mother?”
“I don’t know, Dad.” I step back.
“Where the hell is she? I’m trying to start a party here.”
“I saw her in the kitchen,” Asher says. “She was hittin’ a bag of ice with a hammer.”
“That’s just great.”
“Should I go find her?” I ask.
“No. Don’t move. We’ll go without her.”
“Daddy,” Dara says.
“Hello and welcome to our new home.”
The amp whines. My father cringes at it. Asher hits the top with his palm. The noise fades then stops.
“I . . . I hope you’re all enjoying yourselves and getting enough to eat. Before I begin, has anyone seen my wife? Claire, are you-she’s-kitchen? Okay, would you tell her to come out here, please? I’d like to introduce you to my family but I’m missing my Gabriel and my wife. They’re usually together.”
Some audience laughter.
“Here she is, here’s my lady.”
Applause as my mother walks out from the kitchen with Gabriel in her arms.
“Hi, honey. Come on out and meet everyone. Many of you know my family but . . . I want you to see how wonderful they are and how beautiful my amazing and gorgeous wife is. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the mother of my beautiful children, Claire Green.”
Applause. Some whistles. My father picks something off the shoulder of her sweater and puts his arm around her waist. He looks out at his guests with a tilted head, the microphone held loosely in his palm.
“‘Along the garden ways just now / I heard the flowers speak; / The white rose told me of your brow, / The red rose of your cheek . . .’” He reaches to touch her face. “‘The lily of your bended head, / The bindweed of your hair: / Each looked its loveliest and said / You’-Claire Green-‘were more fair.’” He leans in to kiss her.
An awwww rises from the room.
“A little balladry I found while unpacking. A poem I just know was written with my wife in mind. I . . . can’t begin to tell you what it’s like, to wake up every morning to this beautiful face.”
He leans in to give her another kiss, his hand on the back of her neck.
“Look at her,” he says, then places a hand over the mike. “Want to do a small spin or . . . ?”
My mother shakes her head still smiling.
“Not one little one?”
“And this-can I have it a little bit quiet back there-please. This won’t take long. I’d like to introduce you to my firstborn. This is my bar mitzvah boy. Two weeks ago, for those of you who weren’t there, he became a man, a Jewish man in the eyes of God. My oldest son, Asher. He skateboards!”
Asher steps forward and waves.
“Can ride the thing on his nose!”
Asher rolls his eyes and lifts his thumb in the air with a sarcastic smirk. The amp whines as his foot hits the chord and climbs to a screech before fading out.
My father shoves him away from it, back toward me.
“The blond boy,” he says, still glaring at Asher. “Where’s my blond boy? Hiding behind his mother, of course. This is my Jacob. Jacob is ten years old. He reads Hebrew so beautifully it’ll make you cry. That’s what five years of yeshiva gets ya.”
Some audience laughter.
“Doesn’t have a clue what he’s saying but . . .”
“He also plays baseball. Show everyone your swing, J.”
It’s not the first time he’s done this. At last year’s Passover seder he ran into the garage to get me a Wiffle ball bat.
“Just one swing.”
“I look stupid.”
He covers the mike. “It’s gonna kill you to do one swing? Do it, please.”
I swing an invisible bat to a smattering of applause.
“There it is . . . there it is. He plays Little League for the Knights of Columbus. He pitches too. Show everyone a pitch,” he says into the mike. “Come on, one pitch, here it comes . . . wind up and . . . del-i-ve-ry, yes, beautiful. Sandy Koufax, ladies and gentlemen. And no, he will not pitch on Yom Kippur.”
Some laughter for the joke. Some applause for the pitch. I step back.
“And this,” he says, lifting her into his arms. “This is my girlie.”
“She swims like a fish. The butterfly. Always top three. You can all come and see her race. The Jewish Y on Kingston Avenue. This is my Dara, folks. My one and only girl, my little flower. Dara everyone!”
“Now-although he needs no introduction whatsoever-and I . . . I’d never say I saved the best for last because it’s . . . a silly thing to say, but, here he is, my baby, Gabriel. Gabriel Green,” he says over the applause. “He’ll be three in April. I made him with my own two fists! Isn’t he beautiful?”
My father waves Gabriel’s hand to the crowd. He turns and tucks his face into my mother’s neck. “Can sing ‘Matchmaker’ perfectly, all the parts. Can we have a little of that, beautiful boy? ‘Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match.’ Come on, Gabey.”
Gabe shakes his head hard, his face still hidden.
“All right, a little stage fright. So . . . we’re so very happy every one of you is here. We love all of you, we truly do. If you need anything, just let us know.” He covers the mike.
“Should I do a hamotzi?” he asks my mother.
“They’re already eating,” she says.
“People, people, one more thing. My son, Jacob, is going to bless our food in Hebrew.”
The burn in my stomach is startling. My father hands me the mike and kisses the top of my head. “Relax,” he says. “It’s just the hamotzi. Every word’s a jewel, right? Every word.”
The head of the microphone smells like ass. “Baruch-”
“Louder,” he says.
“From the beginning.”
“Baruch . . . ata, Adonai, Eloheynu, melech haolem, hamotzi, lechem min haaretz.” And the crowd says, “Amen.”
My father lifts me from my armpits and floods my face with machine-gun kisses. His dark beard is like Brillo and rakes at the fair skin of my cheeks and neck. I smile through the bristles and the devouring of my face.
“One more thing,” he says, after my feet touch the ground. “If you haven’t had a tour of the house, meet me here in two minutes. I’ll be your docent so don’t be late. Enjoy!”
Some final applause.
He kneels to switch off the amplifier, then stands to face us. “Not too bad, not too bad.”
The room grows crowded again with the rumble of voices. Asher yanks his tie off and runs up the stairs. My father watches him. “Where you goin’?”
My mother puts Gabriel on the floor and begins to remove his jacket.
“Asher?” he yells.
I walk over to the banister and look up.
“Where’s your brother going?”
“Just takes off,” he says, facing me, and begins to coil the microphone wire. “Not too bad, Claire, right? Poem read well.”
“It was fine.”
“Could you hear me in the kitchen?”
“No, not really. It was muffled.”
“Are there people still back there?”
She nods and folds the jacket over her arm.
“Could they hear me?”
“I don’t know, Abe.”
My father licks his thumb and wipes something off Gabe’s cheek. “Why do you think-I have to beg for a spin, a little spin?”
“Mommy, I have to go to the bathroom,” Dara says.
My mother grips my sister’s hand and faces my dad. “I’ve told you I don’t like that, Abram. When you do that. Haven’t I?”
“A little spin.”
“Mo-mmy,” Dara says, her knees touching.
“Go right now, baby, you know where it is.” Dara runs into the dining room and disappears among the bodies.
She turns to him.
“I see nothing demeaning in it.”
My mother ignores him and reaches for my tie. “You can take this off now,” she says, and picks at the knot. “You hungry?”
She faces my father with both hands on my tie.
“The poem,” he says. “You’ve said nothing . . . about the poem.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I liked this book so much that I read it in one day. I think that everyone should be able to relate to it. Every family is dysfunctional. It might be when your parents are lecturing you and then the phone rings and they pick it up in a false cheery voice and have a pleasant conversation. Then just as the conversation is over they don't forget where they were in your punishment. It might be more severe, like in Jacob's case. We all must grow up and we all go through similar things. I love how high school was not softened. Yes, there is language and drugs, and sex. That is how high school is. You can choose to participate or not. The description of the family was realistic. Congratulations on a book well written!
Zany characters? Check! Religious undertones? Check! Readable? Double check it out!
This book is hard to put down. The characters are absolutely insane and the narrative is so fresh and exciting. The dynamics between Jacob and his father are heart wrenching. I would recommend this book to anyone, though teenage boys might enjoy it more than other people may. Also, as a side note, the author's brother is Zach Braff, best known for playing J.D. in Scrubs. I thought that was interesting.
I would have given this book a higher rating if not for one thing: the ending. Up until this point, Braff has built up a novel that walks the fine line of humor and gravity. And walks it well. The reader will giggle at how on the nose Braff is as we see life through 13 year old Jewish boy's eyes: boobs, masturbation, girls, boobs, and wanting to be cooler. Oh and boobs. Alternately, you feel for the protagonist with his lunatic father, absentee mother, and brother whose only concern is is the Sex Pistols and, well, sex with his punk rock girlfriend. The portrayal of Jacob is a bit reminiscent of Gantos' work: a boy who is frustrated by his inability to impress, to focus, and to be good enough just this once. However, after building up steam throughout the book and giving the reader a fairly intense novel, all said and done, Braff loses it. Trying to be poignant and deep, his ending falls short. Race car into a brick wall, coyote off the edge of the cliff short. All said and done though, having little experiences with male coming of age novels written expressly for Jewish kids, I enjoyed it. Up until the very end that is.
A searing novel, that must be based on his own childhood, about the relationship of a boy and his mercilessly narcissistic father. Very hard to read in parts. Unforgettable characterization.
I think it’s safe to say teenage boys think about sex. A LOT. In fact, teenage boys think about sex so much and with such enthusiasm that teenage girls are often overridden around every bend. With teenage boys in mind, I have compiled a list of penis slang. This is by no means all-inclusive, but it should suffice for the task at hand. There’s Johnson and skin-flute and boner and anaconda and anal impaler. Bald-headed yogurt slinger and baloney pony and bratwurst and chubbie and cock and ding-a-ling and ding dong and dingis. John Thomas and joystick and knob and love stick and member and middle leg and Mr. Happy. Schlong and Schwartz and shaft and tallywacker and trouser snake and wang and weenie. If you add up all the slang terms (there’re 27) and then multiply this number by 15, you probably end up somewhere in the vicinity of how often teenage boys think about getting laid. That’s nearly 17 times an hour. Am I exaggerating? I wish I were. And it doesn’t really matter if your father is half-crazy and your mother decides to start boning her psychology professor, a teenage boy can still dream of a better life. Even if your nanny doesn’t feel the same way about you, you can still enjoy the view and keep the more X-rated thoughts to yourself and have wet dreams in the privacy of your bedroom. THE UNTHINKABLE THOUGHTS OF JACOB GREEN reminded me of a dysfunctional family on steroids. When I reached the end, I had developed an even greater appreciation for my own upbringing, and it was hard not for me to consider myself lucky. Sure, I could bemoan my own familial problems, or my own teenage drama (rather mild in comparison), or the skirmishes my brother and I experienced on multiple occasions, but none of those thoughts crossed my mind. Instead, amusement crossed my lips, as character after character acted out in the craziest manner, and I found myself hanging on for the ride. Robert Downs Author of Falling Immortality: Casey Holden, Private Investigator
I read this book when I was sixteen years old, and found it absolutely great! In my opinion, it is a unique tale of a young Jewish kid on the brink of manhood trying to process the crumbling of his family, while trying to find himself. It's absolutely hilarious, and reminds me of the Jewish kids I grew up with in middle school. Its a great story that is kinda meant for young adults, but can be read by any age group. No matter how old you are, you will definitely enjoy it. It may even help you make the many or final transitions in your life. Enjoy, because I sure did.
This is by far one of the best books I've read in a long time, and I go thru mounds of books. The Braff family is just a very talented one. I loved how he got into Jacob's mind and didn't hold anything back, I especially liked the open ending with 'where the hell is that kid going?' and I can't wait until Braff comes out with a new book, if he is anytime soon.
This book was excellent. Just like Jacob, I am Jewish. I could relate to his thoughts and his feelings. I'm 13 and this was one of our 8th grade summer reading required books. I read this one in 3 days because it was so hard to put down. That being said, I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone under 12 years old because of explicit content. Some may get lost by thinking too much on what he says than his thoughts in general, so you need to be mature to read this. I don't have any other books to recommend because I haven't read anything like this one before. I would definately recommend this book to anyone 12 or up.
I loved this book so much. It was incredible how it could be so sad and still it's put in a way that makes laugh bitterly. It shows emotion without being soft. Theirs all the making of a great book. The first page drags a bit but other than that the entire book goes by so quickly you would wish you read slower. The ending is so wonderfully culminating. I give this book an A plus.
I just recently finished reading 'The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green,' and I am not quite sure if I liked it or not. I was very confused by how it ended, that most likely was the point of ending it like that, but I still am really not that sure what to think. I guess maybe I am just not that into like teenage boy sexual fantasy stuff or something. I do recommend it though it was very funny. I completely related to Jacob, and living in a Jewish family, because I too am Jewish. I¿ve heard Joshua Braff (the author) has been getting offers to make this book a screenplay and eventually a movie. Also, if you really did enjoy this book, I do recommend seeing ¿Garden State.¿ It is written, directed, and starred by Zack Braff, Joshua Braff¿s brother. Zach¿s movie and Josh¿s book have their similarities. I also love Garden State and can¿t wait till it comes out on DVD on December 28, 2004! I¿m counting down the days!
This was an amazing book. I read it because I had heard that it was similar to The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It isnt incredibly similar, but it's very good anyways. Asher is wonderful, he was definately my favorite. Jacob's thoughts are so real. The way he talks about squishing the guests heads in the very beginning and counting the seconds of silence. Its just great. I would definately reccoment it to anyone who would want to read a good book.
Being a Jew, I was excited to read this book. The book excited me and disappointed me on many levels. First, I think the author did a very good job with the character the boy from age 10-ish to 15-ish. I felt the author really captured the boys thoughts, feelings, mannerisms, and speech. On the other hand, I was sorely disappointed that this mainstream, popular book depicts this Jewish family with an emotional abusive father-- also to depict this type of father figure disappointed me since many non-Jews may think this is what being Jewish is all about. Secondly, there is a lot of bad language in the book, I mean BAD so this would be totally inappropriate for teenagers to read.