By James Ryan Daley
Jonathan Stiles could be any 14 year old until his first day of ninth grade. Some kids love school, are excited to be back with old friends and meet new friends. He is not that kid, and the anxiety he feels is only the tip of the iceberg in Jonathan’s life.
His first day includes police tape blocking the path to the dead body of his older brother Ryan. Jonathan is now on his own at the religious school his divorced parents chose for the boys in response to their atheism. His skepticism and disdain for any organized religion becomes his armor, shielding him from the pain of his brother’s death, much to the chagrin of his parents and teachers. Ryan and Jonathan began a religious journey, to try to find a religion or a God that they could prove was real. Now that Ryan is dead, his brother believes that death is the end, but on some level it really bothers him.
An unlikely friendship develops with a stranger Jonathan meets as he was leaving the scene of his brother’s death. Jesus Jackson is on the football field, dressed in a white linen leisure suit, offering to help Jonathan. Jackson looks surprisingly like Jesus Christ and seems to say just what Jonathan needs to hear by proposing two ideas. The first is a guarantee that he will find an answer to Jonathan’s doubts about his faith by serving up the perfect belief for him. Then he implies that Ryan’s death was murder, not an accident, and urges Jonathan to find his brother’s killer.
Henry, Jonathan’s only friend at school agrees to help him do a bit of sleuthing. Unfortunately, it involves stalking and trying to gather clues to take to the police from Alistair, the jock they suspect had something to do with Ryan’s death,. As the boys try to get close to him, they realize it might be impossible to collect any evidence proving Alistair’s guilt. No matter the cost, Jonathan is determined to bring Ryan’s killer to justice.
As if Jonathan doesn’t have an overflowing plate of worries, the females in his life are creating complications and distractions. His mother is acting “normal” by cleaning, cooking and keeping a fake smile on her face instead of dealing with her son’s death. Ryan’s girlfriend is useful to Henry and Jonathan’s quest to prove Alistair’s guilt, but she is grieving more than anyone in Jonathan’s home and he has trouble dealing with her. Then there is Cassie. She has fallen for Jonathan, but he doesn’t have the time or energy for a girlfriend – until he finds out she is Alistair’s sister.
This book is brilliant. The themes could make the story heavy, but the book is not. There is underlying tension with the amateur investigation the boys are conducting as well as the quest to find something for Jonathan to believe in. Humor lightens the crazy events of Jonathan’s world giving the reader and the characters a breather.
Daley has written a touching, thought provoking story with characters that come to life as the plot unfolds. They are easy to relate to and identify with. Jesus Jackson is written for Young Adults, but I recommend it for adults also. The thought provoking plot moves quickly, but makes the reader think long after reading it. It would be the perfect choice for a book club as it naturally leads the reader down many paths of discussion.
I am waiting impatiently for a second novel from this talented wordsmith.
Copyright © 2014 Laura Hartman
DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.