The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green

by Joshua Braff

"My mother once told me that my father never stops loving us, even when he's lost his mind."

The year is 1977 and Jacob Green is 10 years old.  He lives in a suburban New Jersey with his family: a baby brother and sister, a rebellious older brother, a narcissistic father, and a tired mother.  Jacob is the golden boy - the one his father can count on; he is the one who can read the Torah so beautifully.  

Throughout the novel, the reader sees glimpses into the Green family's life, first when Jacob is 10, then 13, and lastly 15 years old.  Abram Green, Jacob's dad, loves his family so much that he is cruel to them.  Jacob includes list of Green family "rules" throughout his narration.  For example, if Jacob or his siblings rip their pants, their father will put his hand in the hole and rip the entire pant leg.  Abram doesn't want his children to be seen as poor, so he humiliates them instead.  Abram forces his children to prove their love for him time and time again.  He is so focused on the outward appearance of his family that he makes his wife and children hate him.  In another instance, he wants Jacob to write each one of his thank you cards perfectly for his Bar Mitzvah, in spite of his learning disability.  Abram rips up the cards when they are not perfect. 

Integral to this story is the theme of family.  Abram wants to love his family so much that he suffocates his children and [ex-]wife.  Jacob and his older brother, Asher, actually show a great deal of love for each other.  They stick together in Hebrew school and later in public school.  They stand as a team against their father; Asher rebels and defies him, while Jacob soothes him with obedience. 

As Jacob matures, his unthinkable thoughts turn away from escape plans to masturbation and oral sex. Jacob struggles between making his father happy, and doing what he wants to do.  Jacob wants nothing more than to escape from his life of performing Torah readings at the synagogue, like a show horse for his father. 

The Green family and its dramatics made me wonder about what goes on behind the closed doors of my neighbour's houses.  I think that this book was tragic at times.  I mean, the Green family is torn apart because Abram loves his family too much.  Jacob is a funny narrator who is great at describing his relationships with his father and other family members. He is anxious and guilty about his actions towards his father.  It is through Jacob that the reader is able to see Abram as a man who loves his family, not just as an egotistical monster.  

I picked it out for the neon green cover, but finished reading it because of its incredible voice and moving content. 
♥ Meg xoxo

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