YA Review: JESUS JACKSON by James Ryan Daley

Jesus JacksonJESUS JACKSON by James Ryan Daley

Poisoned Pen Press ~ October 2014 ~ 4.5 Stars

Prior to the opening of the story, Jonathan and his older brother, Ryan agreed there were too many contradictions in the Bible for it to be true. So, they began a quest to find a religion based on truth. While they sought answers, they began a list of the errors in organized religion which unfortunately their extremely devout mother found. She called in the local priest to save the day. That was how Ryan ended up at St. Soren’s and now Jonathan is stuck in the same place.

Freshman, Jonathan Stiles questions everything in his world from life to faith to his brother’s sudden death. The last high school that Jonathan wanted to attend was St. Soren’s Academy since he doesn’t believe in God. However, his mother decided that because his older brother did well there once he stopped questioning God and became a football star, Jonathan will follow the family tradition. This will force him to stop his claims of being an atheist. Reluctantly he goes to the first day of class only to discover what he believed; he will be hammered by religion. As if things aren’t bad enough, his older brother dies the same day and this only adds to Jonathan’s suspicions that he’s surrounded by evil. A stranger in a white leisure suit who hangs out at the school track, Jesus Jackson, the title character encourages Jonathan to seek out the truth not only of the so-called accident, but also of life. Jesus also promises to help Jonathan rediscover his faith in this coming-of-age story.

A fascinating character, Jonathan sets out to solve the mystery that the local police either can’t or won’t. He has an unlikely ally, another boy who thinks there isn’t a scientific basis for religion. The two boys begin hunting for clues and answers to their questions. Meantime, Jonathan finds himself hating the show of grief the other students make. He really doesn’t feel like they even knew his idolized brother, not the way he did. And how could Ryan play the party game? Or had he decided there might be a God after all? If Ryan continued to be an atheist, where is he now? Or could there actually be a Heaven?

The teen characters are well drawn and Jonathan’s questions as well as his attempts to deal with his grief feel Shannon’s Space continued authentic. However, the adults don’t have as much depth and while one would hope that Jonathan could turn to someone in this situation, there really isn’t anyone who can help including his parents. Jesus Jackson may be a figment of his imagination or could be real, but at times Jesus’ dialogue borders on platitudes voiced by TV preachers. St. Soren’s is a typical high school and the scene where the students build a “rainbow shrine” to Ryan feels like a clichéd response to a tragedy. The fabulous description only adds more pathos to the situation and the reader will want to rage along with Jonathan.

The authentic setting, likeable hero and realistic dialogue will entertain most readers. While this is a story about a boy in search of faith, the religious elements don’t overshadow the plot. Like Jonathan, readers will want to know what happened to his brother and Mr. Daley doesn’t leave us with unanswered questions. It will be interesting to see what he comes up with in his next story.

This review was provided by Shannon Kennedy for her column Shannon’s Space in the June 2015 issue of The Book Breeze.

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