Mezzowriter's ReadWriter Blog

Reading, Writing, and The Search for Buried Gems of Literature

What I’m Reading #10: When Dad Killed Mom February 25, 2010

After an absence of several days, I’ve finally gotten back to this.  I have to mentally rewind to two books ago.

I’ve heard a great deal about Julius Lester as an author, but I think the only book of his I’ve read was To Be a Slave (originally published in 1968, thank you).  And I remember not being THAT particularly enthused about it.   If you’re interested in his EXTREMELY prolific body of work, you can check out Julius Lester’s website.  (I’ll warn you, it’s not the most exciting looking site, but it does have a lot of information, and it does look like he does his own work there, and the man IS over 70, after all, and….never mind.)  More information is also available at Amazon’s Julius Lester Page.

Okay, back to what I was SUPPOSED to be talking about, which was his 2001 book, When Dad Killed Mom.


When Dad Killed Mom by Julius Lester

Silver Whistle, 2001

Courtesy of

From School Library Journal

Gr 9 Up-Lester brings many attributes to his writing for young people: excellent research, a willingness to confront and present controversial topics, aesthetically whole characterizations, and insight on how young people’s concerns do not necessarily match those of their elders. All of these attributes inform this novel, which is narrated in the alternating voices of sixth- and eighth-grade siblings, but which takes on issues that require readers to have attained more maturity than the average peers of these characters. The title sums up precisely the plot: the chief psychologist at a small New England college publicly shoots his wife. The ensuing emotional, social, academic, and legal events are presented as they are experienced by the shy, artistic son and his slightly older sister, who is deep in the throes of a tumultuous adolescence. In contrast with Neal Shusterman’s What Daddy Did (Little, Brown, 1991), Lester depicts children who were well aware of trouble brewing between their parents. The adults in their lives after the horrific event include the mother’s best friend who, curiously, is the father’s first wife; their grandparents; the son’s art teacher; and the family of a younger schoolmate. The young people undergo personal turmoil, grief, and self-revelation as time passes. This seems to be the crux of the story: the only certain thing in life is change itself. Lester’s characters learn how to handle change or become imprisoned by their inability to handle life.-Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley Public Library, CA

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


Strengths: Lester begins after the deed is done.  Instead of the events leading to the crime, the crime itself becomes a catalyst for the rest of the book.  I find this unique–or at least a lot less common, anyway.  Layers of fact are revealed over time, each more painful than the last, until much of the family’s history is reconstructed by the end of the book.  The end is sharp and intense–at least through the trial scenes.

Potential Flaws: I will admit, I almost put this book down.  It took too long to build momentum for my taste.   To appreciate a book of this sort, you have to be able to appreciate Lester’s extended back-and-forth examination of the siblings in the book.  As a reader, I wanted that to be over with and get to the WHY.  I finally got what I wanted near the end–but was slightly disappointed in the slightly-too-neat wrapping up of the loose ends when all was said and done.  It’s clear Lester thinks it’s important to show the gritty reality of things, but in light of that, I felt the ending stepped sideways.

My Rating:

Interesting, but not a real page-turner.