Genre: Fiction, Coming-of-age, Jewish

Notes: Family relationships are complex.  Religious relationships are complex.  Life is complex.  Hilarity and embarrassment ensue.

Review: The Braffs must feed their kids like talent miracle grow or something.  Zach Braff is an actor with a cult-like following after appearing in The Garden State and Scrubs and Joshua Braff (his brother) is a successful writer.  Why didn’t you feed me talent miracle grow, parents?

The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green made me laugh out loud.  The novel centers on a young Jewish boy, Jacob Green, stuck in a crazy, dysfunctional, smothering family.  His father, a late in life convert to Judaism, wants to raise is sons with strict adherence to Jewish law.  Never date goyim.  Keep kosher.  Respect your elders.  Attend endless hours of Hebrew school.  Etc, etc, etc. The house is nothing but rules.

Makes the Morrow house rule of: “If your dresser drawers don’t close, the clothes will be unceremoniously dumped on the floor for you to sort, fold, and place back into the dresser to allow the drawer to close completely” child’s play.  True story.

The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green might be a tad stereotypical (angry father, rebellious older brother, middle child caught in between) but Braff wrote the characters so well that it didn’t matter.  I loved the relationship between the title character and his older brother Asher.  Asher rebels against his father, desecrates the temple (sort of), and decides to choose art as his calling.  (He drew his Hebrew school teacher engaged in a threesome with a lobster and a pig) Since Asher has so thoroughly pissed off his father, Jacob becomes the golden boy.  His father pushes him to become more involved in the synagogue.  Jacob, with his learning disability and other problems that his father chooses to think are a personal attack, has a beautiful gift for reading Hebrew.  Jacob’s father, Abram, parades Jacob around like a performing monkey to impress his temple friends.

However, Abram isn’t always the bad guy.  Sometimes he’s downright charming and tells his children he loves them with all of his heart.  I think that’s where the true strength of this book lies – no one can really fit neatly into boxes.  Like one second, I wanted to punch Abram for being such a dick, but then the next second I felt bad for thinking that way.  Braff traps you in this cycle of guilt so the reader can feel what Jacob feels for his father – the anger, the guilt, the love, the compassion, etc.

Bottom Line: This is how to make your children hate you.