Defending Jacob, by William Landay

My heart went out to George and Cindy Anthony while their granddaughter’s disappearance and the discovery of her remains played out as the top news story day after day. The Anthonys were hounded by the media. Shunned by their friends. Questioned by their family. Rejected by society. All because of the actions of their daughter, Casey. They will never be able to return to the “normal” they once enjoyed. Their lives are forever separated into Before and After.

Everyone was vocal with their opinions, which often strayed from the issue at hand: Casey Anthony’s guilt or innocence in the death of her toddler, Caylee. The public considered George and Cindy Anthony fair game to judge and lambaste on the news, some even trespassing on their front lawn to protest with signs. Much of the outrage came from the perceived ignorance of the Anthonys and their unwavering support of their daughter. Others decided Casey was a product of bad parenting but sympathizers of George and Cindy believed Casey must have been born a monster capable of filicide – the nature versus nurture argument.

If the plight of the Anthonys interested you, you might enjoy the bestselling novel by William Landay, Defending Jacob. The narrator of the story is Andy Barber, a highly respected assistant district attorney in Massachusetts suburbia. He is assigned the shocking murder case of a teenage boy, Ben Rifkin, only to be put on paid leave as his son Jacob becomes a suspect and is subsequently arrested.

Andy and his wife Laurie are stunned to become social pariahs overnight as even their decades-old friendships are strained. Laurie begins homeschooling an ostracized Jacob. Andy personally investigates the Rifkin homicide, hoping to find the real killer and exonerate his son. While in extreme denial about the damming evidence mounting against Jacob, Andy does face the reality of heading to trial and finally confesses to Laurie the truth about his family’s history of violence. The bloody Barber legacy is another cause for Laurie to question Jacob’s innocence but Andy remains resolute in support of their son.

Any parent could find it frightening to ask themselves the questions the Barbers were forced to consider: How well do you really know your child? Do you know how they spend their time online (keeping in mind that tech savvy kids can circumvent parental controls and permanently erase their history)? Are you really following their Facebook activity? Do you know what social peer group they fall into at school? Have you met their friends?

Some reviewers of Defending Jacob commented it gets a little sluggish during the murder trial. While I don’t entirely disagree, I was never bored and I give William Landay credit for a satisfying ending with a surprise.

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