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WHEN DAD KILLED MOM by Julius Lester


by Julius Lester

Age Range: 12 & up

Pub Date: May 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-15-216305-0
Publisher: Silver Whistle/Harcourt

A brother and sister try in their separate ways to cope with the ultimate family cataclysm. This decidedly unfun novel is a real departure for Lester (The Blues Singers, see above, etc.), who has recently been primarily concerned with lighter themes. Jeremy, 12, and Jenna, 14, alternate first-person accounts of the aftermath of their artist mother’s murder at the hands of their psychologist father, each sorting out his or her relationships with mother, father, and each other. Jeremy, it turns out, was a real mama’s boy, whereas the sexually precocious Jenna has always felt much closer to their father, and their confusion and sorrow further separate—but ultimately unite—the siblings. A number of saintly adults help the children work through their grief and anger, most notably the eternally patient Karen, their father’s ex-wife and mother’s best friend, who is perfectly positioned to present critical revelations that help both children and reader understand what has happened. Jenna’s narrative is frequently foul-mouthed but bravely honest as she struggles with a genuine love for her father and with guilt over her adolescent battles with her mother. Jeremy’s is pleasingly naïve and straightforward, but is weakened by his convenient discovery of his mother’s diary, which describes the dissolution of her marriage in barely credible detail. The last third of the book is a courtroom drama in which all is made clear and the father is once and for all exposed for the stinker he’s always been. Almost ridiculously contrived, it’s nevertheless a compelling story suffused with raw and honest emotion, the heightened nature of which will naturally appeal to teens. (Fiction. 12+)