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 Jacob Green idolizes his older brother, Asher, and misses his withdrawn mother, Claire, but his father, the charismatic, tyrannical Abram, dominates the family.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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*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 GreenCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved