[green] “The thing I notice first about the fourth grade at Fillmore Elementary is death and God — or the amazing lack of them. A whole morning goes by and there’s no talk of plagues or slavery or the smiting of anyone, and not as much as a peep on sacrificial slaughters or pestilence.”
Jacob Green has many unthinkable thoughts, from his experience transferring to a non-Jewish school to the number of sperm he possesses. These thoughts and more play out in the debut novel by Joshua Braff, brother of Scrubs actor and Garden State director Zach Braff.
The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green is littered with the main character’s desires, fears and confessions. These thoughts sneak out through the fabric of adolescent protagonist Jacob Green’s struggles and they give him a certain vulnerable charm.
[sperm] Jacob’s unthinkable thoughts weave in and out of the entire novel, giving the reader a sense of living through his growing eyes, mind and body. One such thought comes packed within a Bar Mitzvah thank-you that Jacob imagines sending to a friend of his father:
“In the sixth grade a classmate named David Barnett told me we only have a million to spend so we should be careful with every drop. I’ve got to tell you, Morris and Dora, I’m a little concerned. I have no way of knowing how many sperms I have left in my testicles.”
Jacob is plagued with the typical plights of adolescence, such as a ripening sexuality and a desire to rebel against his family’s religion. But he’s faced with some additional struggles the majority of us don’t see, like an apparent learning disability and a father whose tyranny and aggression are positively frightening.
Jacob’s father, Abram, presents the greatest conflict in the story. Braff foreshadows this conflict with the following introduction to the book:
Do not reject the discipline of the Lord, my son;
Do not abhor his rebuke.
For whom the Lord loves, He rebukes,
As a father the son whom he favors.
-Proverbs 3:11—13
Although not nearly as rebellious and angry as his older brother, Asher, Jacob is clearly frustrated with his father’s impossible standards for love and perfection. As the story progresses through five years of Jacob’s life, we see how his relationship with his father manifests itself in Jacob’s character. His father’s childish tantrums and selfish demands cause Jacob to be spontaneously angry, so much so that he breaks his own wrist punching a wall. But after Asher and Mrs. Green leave the home, Abram becomes dependent upon Jacob, his “good son,” and Jacob accepts the position as his father’s crutch.
The novel, although not a strict autobiography, seems to take a certain volume of material from the author’s own life. There are also a number of similarities between Joshua Braff’s novel and brother Zach Braff’s film, Garden State.
[gardenstate] There are many dots to connect between the works of the Braff brothers. Both have written about introverted protagonists who are half-heartedly Jewish and grow up in New Jersey, and both Zach’s film and Joshua’s novel feature rocky relationships between fathers and sons. So the big question is how much of the fictional content is autobiographical? How much does Joshua Braff hide in the character of Jacob Green?
First, there is the issue of the parents. In Braff’s novel, Mr. and Mrs. Green separate and it is hinted they’ll both remarry. In the dedication of his novel, Braff thanks his four parents. Jacob is described in the novel as having blonde hair and broad shoulders, making him strangely similar to the photo of his creator on the book jacket.
But I’m not here to accuse Braff of stealing material from his own life. After all, it’s often said authors write best about what they know, and what can they know better than their own thoughts…especially the unthinkable ones?

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