Defending Jacob by William Landay

defending jacobDefending Jacob
William Landay


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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7 thoughts on “Defending Jacob by William Landay

  1. I ready this several years ago and I loved it. I’m sorry you didn’t enjoy it as much. It was back before I started writing reviews, so I don’t really remember a lot of details. But I liked how it was structured and it kind of made me terrified of ever having children haha. I’ve always wanted to go back and re-read it to see if I still like it as much now that I’m a more experienced reader.

    1. Hi Stephanie – I did like the story idea. I should also re-read it. That was back when my reviewing style was a lot rougher, but I’m still working on that these days too! Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  2. What a dreadful situation for parents to find themselves in. I often think that, especially when I see delinquents and criminals on the news. Someone raised them, maybe not well enough. I wonder what family life must have been like for young people to be so disrespectful to others.

  3. A friend recommended this book to me a year or two ago. Someone in my book club suggested it for us to read. And now you have reviewed it. It must be a sign that I should read this book.

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