Jonathan Stiles is a 14 year-old atheist who is coping with his first day of ninth grade at the fervently religious St. Soren’s Academy when his idolized older brother Ryan is found dead at the bottom of a ravine behind the school. As his world crumbles, Jonathan meets an eccentric stranger who bears an uncanny resemblance to Jesus Christ (except for his white linen leisure suit and sparkling gold chains). Jesus Jackson, as he calls himself, offers to provide faith to Jonathan. He also suggests that Ryan’s death may not have been an accident after all.
Jonathan teams up with Henry, his new best friend at St. Soren’s, to investigate. The two boys find footprints leading to the ravine that match Ryan’s sneakers. They are assisted by Ryan’s grieving girlfriend, Tristan, who also thinks the accident theory is bunk. The police, however, will not listen. But Jonathan knows something the police do not know: Shortly before his death, Ryan was doing cocaine with fellow footballer and number one suspect Alistair not far from the ravine where his body was found.
An inspired Jonathan battles sanctimonious school psychologists, overzealous administrators, and a cavalry of Christian classmates on his quest to discover the truth about Ryan’s death—and about god, high school, and the meaning of life, while he’s at it. But he keeps getting distracted by Cassie—Alistair’s quirky younger sister—who holds the keys to the answers Jonathan is searching for, but who also makes him wonder if he should be searching for them at all.
Trade paperback; ebook
When high school football hero Ryan Stiles is found dead at the bottom of a ravine, the only person not consumed by grief is his younger brother.Jonathan has reason to believe his brother’s death was no accident. While everyone around him goes through the many stages of grief, Jonathan can only investigate. The book works as parallel mysteries: On one track are the shady details of Ryan’s death, and on the other are the religious and spiritual questions brought up by his demise. Jonathan’s friend Henry and Ryan’s girlfriend, Tristan, help him solve the murder, while the mysterious “Jesus Jackson” helps Jonathan with his theological needs. Daley’s use of Jesus as a sounding board for Jonathan’s crisis of faith makes for the book’s most surreal and intimate moments. The author argues the necessity of faith regardless of where it is placed, a simple concept that is refreshed when delivered in such an unusual fashion. The book excels, sidestepping holier-than-thou rhetoric and addressing the pain of loss head-on as well as painting a wonderful depiction of a young man coming to terms with how he was raised and how he wants to lead his own life. The mystery element and minor romance are icing on the cake: well-executed and finely tuned, complementing the book’s major themes in all the right ways.Smart and sweet, comforting and moving. (Fiction. 12-16)
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up—Jonathan Stiles, 14, just learned that his older, football star brother has died in a freak accident. He already struggles to understand his parents’ divorce, how to survive his first year of high school, and his ever-increasing questions about religion. The first-person narrative will easily draw readers in and through a series of flashbacks, teens will come to understand older brother Ryan’s previous role as mediator between Jonathan and their squabbling parents. Caught between their strict Catholic mom and Buddhist Dad, religion has become a bone of contention within the family. During ninth-grade orientation, Jonathan and his new best friend, Henry, take a shortcut through the woods where they find Ryan and his football buddies, and the brothers have a falling out. That’s the last time Jonathan sees Ryan alive. It is while Jonathan is questioning what occurred with his brother that he stumbles onto the football field and meets Jesus Jackson. This is where the story cleverly travels in two different directions: there is the mystery about what actually happened to Ryan, and there is Jonathan’s struggle to come to terms with his faith. Jesus is almost always out on the football field when Jonathan seeks him out. It’s here that he questions and wrestles with his faith in God, in himself, and in the people he loves and respects. Jonathan is a multidimensional character who learns to make a leap of faith and must be willing to accept the consequences for his leap. An engaging, suspenseful read that teens will not be able to put down.—Julie Shatterly, W.A. Bess Elementary School, Gastonia, NC