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The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green

49 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1565124202
ISBN-10: 1565124200
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4 Stars and Up Feature: Kitchens of the Great Midwest
"Foodies and those who love contemporary literature will devour this novel that is being compared to Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge. A standout." --Library Journal Learn more
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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 Jacob Green idolizes his older brother, Asher, and misses his withdrawn mother, Claire, but his father, the charismatic, tyrannical Abram, dominates the family.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.
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Like a child, Jacob Green's father, Abram, wants what he wants when he wants it and will throw a temper tantrum if he doesn't get it. What Abram wants most of all is the perfect suburban Jewish family--perfectly intelligent, perfectly religious, and perfect at obeying thy father. Braff's rich, moving, and very funny first novel begins with a 1977 housewarming party at which Abram dramatically introduces each member of his family while the four children and their mother seethe with resentment at being paraded as testaments to Abram's greatness. Jacob's present-tense, first-person narration keeps the pace quick, and the exquisite plotting ensures that Jacob's growing emotional turmoil is paralleled by metaphorically resonant real-life events. To survive and mentally escape his father's cruel, perverse love, young Jacob shares hilariously unthinkable thoughts--the funniest are the hypothetical bar mitzvah thank-you notes in which Jacob thanks people for Jerusalem stone bookends and the like and then details his lust for his live-in nanny before signing "Love, Jacob." Readers will adore Jacob, but Braff's greater accomplishment is describing the boy's complex relationship with his father so well that we are forced to see the cruel, self-obsessed Abram as something more than a mere monster of ego. John Green
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books (October 9, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1565124200
  • ISBN-13: 978-1565124202
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #352,142 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Joshua Braff is the author of three novels, The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green, Peep Show and The Daddy Diaries, to be published on May 5, 2015. The Daddy Diaries is a memorable take on contemporary fatherhood and a clear-sighted look at how the upending of traditional marital roles can affect the delicate balance of familial love. Braff's work can also be found in The Huffington Post and in multiple anthologies. He has an MFA from St. Mary's College and lives in Northern California with his wife and two children. Visit for more information.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 39 people found the following review helpful By EA Solinas HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 25, 2004
Format: Hardcover
What other book has bar mitzvah thank-you notes as a major plot element? Well, they do in "The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green," a quirky coming-of-age story in 1970s New Jersey. Like his equally talented brother Zach (director/star/writer of "Garden State"), Joshua Braff shines in his heart-tugging, funny first novel.

Jacob Green dreams of an ideal Jewish family, but unfortunately he's got a wildly dysfunctional one instead. His father Abram is an ideal host and father to the world -- but in his home he's an emotionally abusive perfectionist. Since Jacob has a learning disability, he gets the brunt of his father's wrath. Abram calls him an "idiot" and "retard," even though Jacob is clearly a bright young boy.

His father's irrational rages cause Jacob to withdraw into his own imagination, especially since his worn-out mother Claire has fallen in love with her professor. His "unthinkable thoughts" center on his school, his religion, and his lust for the nanny. And it's only through his fantasies on "the unthinkable" that he can deal with his disintegrating family life.

Family relationships are complex enough when the family is what passes for normal. If they're strange -- forget it. Remember what Tolstoy said: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." It's a credit to Braff that he can make what seems like a very depressing novel so incredibly funny. And were it not for the endearing Jacob and his quirky fantasies, it probably would be very depressing.

Braff has an irreverent, quick kind of prose, with a mixture of darker problems and full-blown comedy (such as Jacob's brother drawing a picture of a rabbi in a threesome with a pig and lobster). The balance between darkness and humor is just perfect.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Edgar Cleveland on September 6, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I was inspired to pick this book up after learning of it's existance from a short article in "people" magazine about brothers Zach and Joshua Braff and their Movie and Novel debuts.

I had already seen and fallen in love with Garden State so I figured a book, by another member of the Braff family would be a safe bet for a good read. I was lucky enough to find that B. Dalton at my local mall had recieved a few copies earlier than scheduled and so I picked it up two days ago and I just finished reading it this morning and I have come to the conclusion that the Braff family is one of admirable story telling ability. The book is hilarious where intended and yet still able to maintain a tone of seriousness when neccessary. Braff's descriptions of friends and family members are perfect, causing me to ponder on the similarities between the charecters in the book and people I know in my life. All in all, I'd say it's a definite must read for anyone. Go buy this book NOW!
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By L. Hey on September 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover
After seeing the movie Garden State and becoming completely addicted, I have been checking Zach Braff's blog that he is keeping. In it, he suggested (of course) The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green, written by his brother, Joshua. Once again, a Braff brother has amazed me! The characters in Braff's book make the plot line even more interesting. Although I am not male, or Jewish, or from New Jersey, I felt that every character had an aspect of his or her personality that I could directly relate to.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Larry Mark MyJewishBooksDotCom on November 12, 2004
Format: Hardcover
What sort of insane family did Zach and Jacob Braff grow up in? Actor Zach wrote and starred in the film GARDEN STATE which has a distant Jewish father; and now his older brother has written this novel, a coming of age tale set in an Orthodox Jewish New Jersey family with a Jewish father who craves attention without end, and rages more than a rage-a-holic. Not even EST can calm him. Assuming there might be a kernel of truth in this book, a word to the wise. If you ever meet either Braff brothers, don't go near their Challahs. God knows where its been or what nefarious bonking they did with it.

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, Abram to introduce him to the crowd - who already knows him - as the favorite lovely blonde son. Parties punctuate the family's life, but so do the rages (if only they were raves) of Daddy Dearest, Abram Green. He is a tyrant, filled with rage and a penchant for rules and tearing clothes that are not perfect. In order to escape, Jacob thinks hilarious thoughts. He fantasizes about sex ed with the live-in nanny; he fantasizes about his challah. His bar mitzvah thank you notes, if they weren't proofed, would detail his lust for the nanny. Sadly they are filled with spelling errors, since Jacob has a learning challenge. If only his mother hadn't chosen grad school over the kids. Why couldn't it be Jacob who got expelled from Hebrew School. His older brother, Asher, was expelled for drawing his rabbi in a threesome with an erect pig and a tasty lobster (plus there was the one with the (...). You get the idea? The book is a fun read with outrageous and outlandish antics and fantasies.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Bruce J. Wasser on January 4, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Cursed with a learning disability that stigmatizes him in the eyes of his monomaniacal father, adrift in adolescent doubts and hungers, bewildered by the chaos of his fragmented family, Jacob Green resorts to unthinkable thoughts to survive. His creator, the wonderfully talented and mordantly satirical Joshua Braff, understands all too well Mark Twain's maxim: "The secret source of humor itself is not joy but sorrow. There is no humor in heaven." Braff's breakthrough debut novel, "The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green," is both terrifically funny and heartbreakingly sad. Braff's gift is his ability to make you wince while laughing.

It's not bad enough that Jacob Green has a father like Abraham, a man so narcissistic that his need for self-aggrandizement operates as a black hole in the family. Self-centered, smug and prone to violent verbal and physical outbursts, Abraham exists greedily as the center of his family's universe. Jacob wrestles with a gnawing sense of inadequacy, fostered in part by his father's insistence that Jacob attend a private Jewish school, where the child's uncommon knowledge of Hebrew is burnished but his treatable disabilities are ignored, left to foster an ever-growing sense of inferiority in the young adolescent.

Jacob knows how pathetic he is. "I'm a bar mitzvahed junior high student with braces, a bedtime and a father so far up my [behind] you can see him performing in my pupils." Jacob longs to be like his rebellious older brother Asher, whose Hebrew name means "happiness." Asher has "a girlfriend with stone-washed jeans and tobacco breath" who performs sexual acts on demand. Asher drinks, smokes dope and draws licentious pictures of rabbis performing ungodly acts on pigs and lobsters. What Jacob knows of himself is not good.
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