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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Book Review: Defending Jacob

A friend recommended William Landay's "Defending Jacob" to me a few weeks ago.  It was on my mind when I took library books back to the bookmobile the other day but it hadn't been available to place on hold. In one of those "must of been meant to be" moments, the woman in front of me brought a copy back in.  I snatched it up and borrowed it.  Seemed too easy.

This is a thick novel but I had to read it quickly.  I had some late nights with it because I just really needed to get the whole mess off my mind!  It's a great book and a difficult book at the same time.  It's a "must read" if you're a parent but I also suggest you "review it with caution" if you're a parent.  It won't be an easy read and it is guaranteed to make you think about some difficult things. It might also open your eyes and open some communication lines.  I personally think it would be a great novel to read with high school students and allow them to review for accuracy of content and get their insights on it. It might be a way to open up lines of collaboration. Hmm...

The novel's main character, Andy Barber, is a long standing district attorney in suburban Massachusetts. Nothing sets  Andy, his wife and son, apart from his neighbours and friends. They live the "typical" life of a happy and successful family with perhaps fewer issues and tribulations than most. When a 14 year old boy is found murdered in the park close to their home, it's yet another crime for Andy to help investigate and bring to trial. Andy and his wife empathize with  the parents of the murdered child. Although not a friend of his son, Andy remembers seeing this child at events as his own son was growing up. They were in the same grade at school , just not in the same "circle". Then Andy's son is charged with the murder and everything changes. Everything.

Suddenly events, reactions, and behaviors that seemed normal, typical, and "every day" seem as though they just might not be. And yet... we're not sure.

This story really made me think.  And it made me think about things I would rather not. It made me pull my head out of the sand a bit and realize that no matter how well we think we understand the lives our teenagers are going through, we just don't. We really don't know. We really don't understand.

We measure the lives of our children from our own experiences.  We compare and contrast. We remember what it's like to be bullied or to be a bully, to struggle to fit in, to be popular. We remember wanting things we didn't have, and having things we didn't want, and we think we have "been there done that".  All parents have been teenagers and have lived through developmental issues.  But we have not lived in the same world that our children do.  Nor, do our children live in the same world we did. Some of the rules of the game are the same. Some are totally different. And without question, the playing field is not the same.

I think we spend a lot of time comparing.  We argue about whether kids today have life easier or more difficult than we did. They do. They have life easier in some ways and more difficult in others and it isn't about keeping score. It isn't meant to be a competition between the generations. It is supposed to be a process of evolving.

In my perfect world, we would combine the wisdom of having "been through similar events and development" with an accurate assessment of the present situation. That would mean parents could bring wisdom IF we could hear, and listen to, what the playing field looks like. That assessment of reality would come from those living it- the teenagers. Solutions wouldn't come from one side or the other.  They would be collaborative in nature. A perfect world.. not necessarily a realistic world...

In his novel, Landay brings forward the issues around technology today. I think most parents know we're a little "out of our league" on this one.  Raise your hand if you started a Face Book page so you could "check up" on your kids and then got lost in the overwhelming amount of information and stopped checking, or never really did check in the first place, or turned it in to your own friend device and got recoonected with others in a cool way and sort of forgot about the kid stuff.  But you felt like you were an involved parent because you told them you had an account and could see what they posted, you limited their time spent there (you thought you did) and anyway, your child seems to be doing "just fine". You can put your hand down now....

On some level, parents know when they are being manipulated.  We have "been there done that", that's why we recognize when we are being manipulated in return.  I can still see one of my teenage friends displaying a wine skin over her sweater when we got "caught" going to the hockey game.  She pranced and preened in front of her mother and explained how this was all part of the coolest fashion statement to go with the "Icelandic feel" of the sweater. Geez didn't she have any fashion sense? Anyone that was cool was wearing one. We thought we were so smart to have "pulled the wool over her mother's eyes". She didn't even open the cork to discover the wine skin was, of course,  filled with wine.  Adults are just not that smart!  Now, with the wisdom of my years, I know my friend's mother wasn't dumb. She was tired. She was trying to "pick her battles" and allow some freedom and hope for the best. She wanted to trust us and believe that we were ready and could make good decisions. She loved us and ultimately believed we were "good kids".

Andy Barber loves his son.  He trusts him. He believes he's a "good kid". He believes he is innocent, or at least he decides to believe he is innocent, because he loves him.  He is tired. And when you're tired, there is a fine line between letting go and giving up. Maybe there always is.  Maybe that's the line both parents and their teenagers are struggling to define. When do we let go and how do we not give up.

I believe in the power of the written word.  I believe William Landay's novel is powerful. For a couple of days, I could feel Andy Barber's emotions. I could test those waters just a wee bit.  I walked around with him a bit. Maybe I could adjust my own belief system just a bit. Maybe I consider how I parent. Maybe I can feel the emotions of being a teenager in today's world just a bit.  Perhaps I have an increased knowledge of what teenagers are facing in today's world. Maybe I understand some other uses of technlogy. Hmm..

I didn't want to spend a lot of time in those waters. That's why I read this book so fast.  It wasn't a comfortable place and I was glad to get out of there.  But I appreciate the glimpse.  It made me feel.  It made me think. It strengthen my resolve to "let go" and not "give up".

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