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Finding Jake


Finding Jake

In Bryan Reardon’s debut novel, FINDING JAKE, we are provoked with a simple, if not common, question: How well does a parent know his or her adolescent child? For Simon Connolly, the stay-at-home father of 15-year-old Jake, the thought goes from a passing reflection to something more consequential, as during an ordinary November day he receives notice that a shooting has occurred at his son’s school. In time, we learn that Jake is not among the living or the dead. He is missing and, along with another boy (Doug Martin-Klein, who has already done himself in), is considered a prime suspect in the shooting.

The questions mount and seem only outdone by the accusations. Jake is immediately pinned as the culprit, despite his whereabouts being unknown and little evidence to back the claim. Angry crowds flood the Connolly home, the phone calls start, and the media bombardment sweeps televisions. Then a copycat murderer emerges, and parents of the dead, along with others, are quick to condemn. What FINDING JAKE does right is take us from the external --- the outrageous and quick reactionary movement of a mob and media blitz --- to confront the individual. As we flashback between chapters, we see Jake grow into a young adult. We learn of his quiet nature, his sensitivity and willingness to befriend those who are outcasts, and his normal, even ordinary, upbringing in the small town. To his father’s advice, he gives everyone a chance, becoming friends with the aforementioned Doug Martin-Klein, who the other boys find strange and whose family Simon finds distant.

"[T]here is potential for Reardon as a storyteller to emerge. He gets you to turn pages, and some aspects are spot on.... As a page-turner, where little is written between the lines, FINDING JAKE works."

In the present, we follow Simon, his wife Rachel and their daughter Laney as the investigation moves forward. The police, at least on the surface, do little to find Jake as they treat him as a suspect, not a victim, taking their time to gather evidence and hold back information. All the while, the Connolly family is herded through the police investigation to different homes, forced to confront reporters and media alike as they’re left searching for Jake. The book seems to edge on cliché at times, and we feel like we know this story a bit too well. However, moments do occur that help break the cycle, at least slightly. This is where author Bryan Reardon shows the most promise --- as when Laney refuses to back down on the media circus, or when Rachel decides they are not hiding and will be returning home, despite the mob being at their front door.

Reardon effectively shows us the individuals. Doug’s mother is a sweet woman who did not cause what her son did. Those who blame Jake do not know him and wrongly accuse his parents of causing the tragedy. The media itself is a monster in its coverage, pressing the wounds of a hurt and angry community. Simon and the rest of his family don’t believe Jake is the culprit. How could he be? Not their son, not the boy they raised. Quickly, though, the doubt begins to creep in --- signs point to a strong possibility of his guilt, and even the family is left to wonder how well they really know him.

FINDING JAKE is not a ground-breaking book. It’s a rather modest debut novel, with flaws in its prose --- some lines miss the mark --- but there is potential for Reardon as a storyteller to emerge. He gets you to turn pages, and some aspects are spot on. The individual sections with Simon and Rachel work nicely, but others seem to stray and hit the wrong notes in their evocation. The amnesty moments come off as forced, but the real flaw is the novel’s depth. It has potential to give us fresh perspective on a recurring issue, or even take us deeper on an emotional level, but we learn little about motivations or reasons for the school shooting. 

As a page-turner, where little is written between the lines, FINDING JAKE works. But as a deep, psychological thriller, it lacks in precision and movement. The events span a short time, keying one motivation --- finding Jake. When we do find him, it’s an emotional pay-off for sure, but getting to that point is rough in areas and mostly a sparse and trite path.

Reviewed by Stephen Febick on March 20, 2015

Finding Jake
by Bryan Reardon