Thursday, October 8, 2015

When Dad Killed Mom by Julius Lester

fpo  Brother and sister Jeremy and Jenna were sitting in their respective classrooms as they would on any other Tuesday. Then the principal came in and it stopped being a normal Tuesday. Jeremy and Jenna's mother is dead, they are told, and their father is the one who shot her.

When Dad Killed Mom is told from the perspectives of Jenna and Jeremy in alternating chapters. Jenna is 14, Jeremy a little younger. There is no question as to their father's guilt. He shot his wife in broad daylight in front of plenty of witnesses and admitted what he had done as soon as the police confronted him. Jeremy and Jenna are left to wonder why. Jeremy was closer to his mother. The two of them shared a talent for art and how the light changed the way something look. He automatically despises his father for what he's done. Jenna was a daddy's girl. She wants to believe there is some explanation, some mistake but even she has her doubts.

I'm still working out what to think about this book. It is a heavy subject but it wasn't the gut wrenching story I was expecting. On the one hand I'm grateful for that because I really wasn't looking forward to reading about a husband killing his wife and the children who are left to deal with the fallout. (The only reason I read this book at all was for book club.) On the other hand, I feel like I should have felt more reading this book but it didn't really make much of an impact. The kids wonder what's going to happen to them, where they're going to live, who will take care of them, how they are going to go back to school and their regular lives. They wonder why if their father was so mad at their mother he couldn't have just divorced her like a normal person. The kids move forward with their lives relatively calmly as adults flutter around them planning a funeral and preparing for a trial.

One interesting thing about this book is that the murder victim isn't made out to be a saint. It is clear that she was flawed and that despite that, she didn't deserve what happened to her. Both of the kids paint their mother as someone who cared about her art above anything else. Even Jeremy admits that what connected the two of them the most was art, that when it came to him his mother seemed mostly interested in what he was able to draw or paint. I also appreciated that the two kids never really buy their father's excuses for his actions. As much as she wants to give her father the benefit of doubt, even Jenna can't accept their mother's (alleged) infidelity as a justification for her murder.

This story was told from the point of the view of the children which was an interesting idea. This is not story I have seen from a kid's perspective before. Still, I can't help but wonder how different and more interesting this might have been had it been from an adult's perspective or at least a more mature teenager. The two parents, Rachel and Eric, had a complicated marriage. He was a psychologist and she an artist. They met when she went to him for counseling. They had two kids. Eric seemed to favor their daughter while Rachel favored their son. Eric was married once before and his ex-wife and current wife were best friends. Eric and his first wife had a daughter that died and she did not die of natural causes. These are seeds of what could be a great literary thriller. I wish I could read that book.

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