Happy Tuesday, Reading Nook readers!
Today, we're reviewing Finding Jake by Bryan Reardon, and I can't wait for people to share in the reading experience for this book.
This is a book that will absolutely challenge you and upset you while reading, but move you in ways that you honestly didn't think were possible. Seriously. Read this now. You won't regret it.
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published February 24th 2015 by William Morrow & Company
Format read: ARC via publisher
While his successful wife goes off to her law office each day, Simon Connolly takes care of their kids, Jake and Laney. Now that they are in high school, the angst-ridden father should feel more relaxed, but he doesn't. He’s seen the statistics, read the headlines. And now, his darkest fear is coming true. There has been a shooting at school.
Simon races to the rendezvous point, where he’s forced to wait. Do they know who did it? How many victims were there? Why did this happen? One by one, parents are led out of the room to reunite with their children. Their numbers dwindle, until Simon is alone.
As his worst nightmare unfolds, and Jake is the only child missing, Simon begins to obsess over the past, searching for answers, for hope, for the memory of the boy he raised, for mistakes he must have made, for the reason everything came to this. Where is Jake? What happened in those final moments? Is it possible he doesn’t really know his son? Or he knows him better than he thought?
Brilliantly paced, Finding Jake explores these questions in a tense and emotionally wrenching narrative. Harrowing and heartbreaking, surprisingly healing and redemptive, Finding Jake is a story of faith and conviction, strength, courage, and love that will leave readers questioning their own lives, and those they think they know.
Well, I was wrong. So wrong in fact, I feel a little sheepish thinking about it now.
Bryan Reardon introduces us to Simon Connolly, a reluctant stay-at-home dad who has devoted his life to raising his kids, Jake and Laney. While Laney has always been the belle of the neighborhood, Jake is similar to Simon: he's quiet and shy, with an innate empathy that has often been misintepreted as moodiness by others.
However, the moodiness is generally accepted by Simon and his family, until the day that Simon receives a text informing him that a shooting has taken place at Jake and Laney's high school. When it becomes evident that Jake is the only student who is unaccounted for, Simon is forced to reevaluate everything he knows about Jake, and question whether it's possible that his son is in fact, involved with the shooting.
Though the concept of a parent re-examining their actions in the aftermath of a potential tragedy isn't necessarily a new one, it's Reardon's approach which makes Finding Jake immediately stand out from its predecessors. We first meet Simon on the day that the shooting begins to unfold, but Reardon makes the decision to intersperse those intial moments of chaos, with candid flashbacks examining the evolution of Simon and Jake's relationship.
We learn that while Simon was thrilled at learning his wife is pregnant, he was also reluctant to accept the role of the stay-at-home parent. The reluctance eventually translated into an underlying sense of resentment and uncertainty, which impacted both Simon's parenting style, and his relationships with others on a whole.
It's the reminder of that resentment and uncertainty which equally fuels and huants Simon, as he begins to try and figure out what's happened to Jake. Both Simon and the reader can't help but question whether it's Simon's awkwardness that has pushed Jake into becoming into the type of person who would commit mass-murder, especially as we learn that Jake has occasionally made some decisions - including friending someone with a troubled background - that challenges Simon's fundamental understanding of who Jake is as a person.
Even as Simon begins to uncover the truth, Reardon is careful to show how it is ultimately Simon's influence that has helped guide Jake's decisions, in surprising and heartbreaking ways. The denounment of the book will be especially impactful for readers, and will also go a long way in reassuring every reader who has wondered about their own relationship with their offspring.
Outside of the Simon and Jake relationship, Reardon also offers some astute commentary on the dichotomy of family and society during a traumatic event. He asks thoughtful questions on how emotionally-fueled thinking during a tragedy can drive a mob mentality, highlighted by neighbors turning their backs on the Connolly family, and Jake's own family struggling to believe in Jake's innocence.
Reardon also pushes readers to question just what it will eventually take for a family and community to recover from an event like the shooting. He points out that the ripple effects of similar tragedies performed by strangers in far-off states will continue to be felt - much like real-world example of such incidents - but that sometimes, people will eventually begin to realize that they were acting on emotions, and eventually try to come together both as a community, and a family.
(Not exactly an effective way to read, but you get my point.)
Reardon doesn't hesitate to bring readers to the depths of despair felt post-shooting, but he also reminds us that there is hope and goodness, even when everything we know is being challenged. These are powerful lessons in Simon and Jake's intertwined stories, that will encouage readers to reexamine their perceptions on how they view those who may appear different, and ultimately, how they choose to view themselves.
Bottom line: Bryan Reardon has written a powerful study of public perception and family, and I highly, highly recommend you pick up this book ASAP.
About the author:
Bryan Reardon is a freelance writer specializing in medical communications. He co-wrote Ready, Set, Play with retired NFL player and ESPN analyst Mark Schlereth and Cruel Harvest. Prior to becoming a full-time writer, Bryan worked for the State of Delaware for over a decade, starting in the Office of the Governor. He holds a BA in psychology from the University of Notre Dame and lives in West Chester, Pennsylvania, with his wife, kids, and rescue dog, Simon.