Book Review: ‘Finding Jake’

The Columbine High School shooting in April of 1999 changed the lives of future students and their parents forever. Now, as President Obama recently stated after yet another school shooting, such tragic events are becoming commonplace. Although schools and police departments across the country have developed protocols for dealing with school shootings, our nation cannot collectively agree on a preventative course of action.

But while the thought of losing a child to such a tragedy is a parent’s nightmare, even worse is the possibility of having a child who is the shooter. This is the trauma of Simon Connelly, the narrator in Bryan Reardon’s intensely suspenseful novel Finding Jake.

As Connelly is a freelance writer married to a successful attorney, the choice that he become a stay-at-home dad when their children were born seemed logical and he embraced whole-heartedly the responsibility but at the same time, felt uncomfortable in the world of mothers and second-guessed himself when he made decisions regarding the rearing of his young daughter and especially his older son Jake.

And then, when his son is a senior, he receives a text message that a shooting has taken place at his kids’ high school and requesting that parents meet at a nearby church during the crisis. He waits in the sanctuary with the others as they are reunited with their children and watches a few taken to a separate room to be told the fates of their kids (thirteen have been killed, others wounded), and continues to sit alone until officials inform him that his son is missing and is suspected of being a second shooter. The first has committed suicide in the school.

Reardon, like his fictional narrator, was a psychology major and freelance writer specializing in medical communications. Not surprisingly, the novel focuses on the emotional states of the victims’ families rather than on the grisly details of the assaults.

The author alternates chapters, beginning with Jake in his mother’s womb, followed by the alert to the school shooting, and then moving the two story lines simultaneously forward in time, taking Jake through his physical and psychological development up to the present, and bringing the reader through the developing crime investigation toward its resolution. The reader, like Jake’s father, agonizes over whether or not the boy could be one of the shooters and shares Simon’s concern over his son’s well-being.

While not a stay-at-home dad, this reviewer was a teacher who was a caregiver for his children during summer vacations. The day-to-day concerns of Simon as he raises his children sound familiar.

And Reardon succeeds in creating a strong sense of place (the author in an earlier part of his life lived in Delaware) and believable characters. He uses language well and crafts his novel skillfully. With the exception of a couple of creaky conventions that are exploited as he wraps up his plot, overall this compelling story is first rate.

Readers will do well to clear their schedules when they begin the book, as many will finish it in a day. And some might wish to enter the conversation regarding realistic approaches for dealing with the unique problem of school shootings that our country continues to endure.

Finding Jake by Bryan Reardon/261 pages, William Morrow/Harper Collins, 2015

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