What would you do if your teenage son were a murder suspect? This is what Andy and Laurie Barber face when their son Jacob is arrested for the murder of his classmate Ben Rifkin. William Landay shows how the Barbers navigate through the conflicting emotions of doubt and wanting to believe in Jacob’s innocence. And the Barbers’ marriage suffers when Andy reveals a family secret to Laurie that calls Jacob’s behavior into question. The characters explore the interesting questions of nature versus nurture and the science of behavioral genetics.
Although the story is compelling, I was disappointed by the unrealistic characters and unexplained details in the book. I think Jacob’s character, a 14-year-old eighth grader, acts more like a 16-year-old or older, especially in his use of vocabulary and ideas when he talks to his parents. Side characters like Sarah Groehl, Matt Magrath and his mother seem to be important, but they are never fully explained. The details of the crime scene are confusing and at times they seem to contradict earlier accounts. In particular, the nature of Ben Rifkin’s wounds seem to have some kind of meaning, yet their suggested significance fades away as the story continues.
This is a plot-driven story and, despite the problems with characters and some details, there is a clear beginning, middle and end and that keeps the story moving. Its twist at the end follows a predictable rhythm, but I think it raises reader interest. Despite the average rating, I think the author raises thought-provoking questions about inherited traits.
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