When Dad Killed Mom

When Dad Killed Mom

by Julius Lester

Paperback(First Edition)

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Jenna and Jeremy knew their parents' marriage was in trouble. But no one could have predicted what would come next. Now with Mom dead and Dad in jail, Jenna and Jeremy must re-create a family of their own. But each guards a secret that could send their fragile new lives into a tailspin.
Newbery Honor winner Julius Lester paints a dramatic portrait of a family forced to confront the unimaginable.
Reader's guide included.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780152046989
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 12/14/2012
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 214
Sales rank: 827,801
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.00(h) x (d)
Lexile: 780L (what's this?)
Age Range: 12 Years

About the Author

JULIUS LESTER is the author of more than twenty books for young readers. He writes and teaches in western Massachusetts.

Read an Excerpt




Tuesday Afternoon
My mother is dead.

Dad killed her.

I was in the art room with my class, working on a drawing of the tree next to the old barn Mom made into her studio, the tree whose branches I look at from the couch where I lie sometimes when she is drawing or painting. Anybody who saw my drawing would think it was only a birch tree. Only I knew it was the one outside the window next to the old barn Mom made into her studio.

When the classroom door opened, I didn't look up. I was concentrating really hard, like Mom does when she sits on the stool at her drawing table. I wanted to finish the drawing so I could show it to her when I got home. She says I remind her of herself when she was twelve — serious and hardworking. She says she likes to see things through my eyes, that I see things as they are and that's what it takes to be an artist.

I didn't hear Miss Albright, the art teacher, come over. I didn't even know she was standing next to me until I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was like I had been asleep or something, because I kind of jumped and looked to see who it was. It's funny how when someone touches you on the shoulder, you almost always look in the direction away from where they touched you. I looked to the left and then realized and looked the other way. I saw pale blue, like the sky at this time of year after the leaves have fallen from the trees but before the first snow. It was Miss Albright's dress. I looked up at her and she seemed worried or concerned about something. I thought she didn't like my drawing and I looked down at it. I can draw almost anything exactly like it is. It's a talent I was born with. I got it from Mom. Not only can she draw anything she sees, she can even draw things she saw a long time ago, like the view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the window of her room at Gran and Grampy's house in San Francisco. I knew there was nothing wrong with my drawing. That tree looked so real you could almost peel off some of the white bark. I was about to ask Miss Albright what she thought was wrong with my drawing when I noticed the principal, Mrs. Worthing, standing behind her. She looked worried, too.

"You need to go with Mrs. Worthing back to your room, Jeremy, and get your coat and books," Miss Albright said, whispering in my ear.

"Why?" I wanted to know. "I want to finish my drawing to show my mom when I get home."

Miss Albright has dark curly hair and her eyes are always laughing. Just looking at her makes me happy. But looking at her this time I felt alone, like when Mom is angry at Dad and I'm afraid they're going to get divorced like all the other kids' parents. Miss Albright was blinking her eyes fast, like I do when I want to cry but don't think I should. That was when I knew something bad had happened.

"Come, Jeremy," Mrs. Worthing said.

All the other kids stopped drawing and talking and looked at me as I got up.

"What's the matter?" Evan asked. He's sort of my best friend and was sitting on the other side of the table trying to draw a picture of Jamie Phillips, except Evan can't draw. The only reason I knew it was Jamie Phillips was because I knew he liked her. "You okay?"

I shrugged, but I didn't look at him as I followed Mrs. Worthing out of the room.

"Did something happen to my sister?" I asked as we started down the hall to my room. Jenna is fourteen and goes to the middle school. She's in eighth grade. This past summer she said she was going to the mall to see a movie, but when she came home she had a ring in her navel. Mom was really angry. I had never seen her so angry. Dad thought it was funny and that made Mom even madder. When Jenna said it was Dad's idea that she get it and that he paid for it, Mom slapped him so hard there was a big red splotch on his face. When Mrs. Worthing wouldn't answer me, I figured Jenna must have done something really bad this time.

When we got to my room, it was empty because everybody was in the art room with Miss Albright. I don't know where Mr. Zweig, my teacher, was. I got my coat and hat from my cubby, and the green canvas backpack Mom made for me, and followed Mrs. Worthing through the halls to her office.

We went through the outer office where the secretaries sit and back to Mrs. Worthing's office, PRINCIPAL is painted on the door. When we walked in, I was surprised to see Jenna. She was sitting on a couch to the left of the door. I was so happy to see her that I started to call her "turd face" or something like that. I don't know why, but I call her names when she makes me angry and when she makes me happy. I was grinning because I was so glad to see her, and then I noticed that the black stuff she puts around her eyes was all smudged and messy and there were little black trails going down her face like she had been crying.

"Jen?" I said. My voice came out sounding so small I didn't recognize it as me.

She looked up when she heard my voice. "Oh, God, Jeremy!" she said, and rushed over and gave me a hug so hard I almost fell. Jenna is tall like Dad and has dark hair like Mom, except Mom's is almost as short as mine and Jenna's is long. When she bent over to hug me, her hair fell forward and got on my face, and Jen has boobs now and she was pressing my face into them and I didn't know if I was going to suffocate in her boobs or choke to death from all her hair. Then she started crying. Jen had never done anything like that around me, and I wanted to push her away because I was afraid she was going to get snot in my hair, and that was when she said, "Dad killed Rachel."

Rachel is my mom's name. Jenna started calling her that this summer. Mom hated it and told Jenna to call her Mom, and Jenna mostly would, but sometimes I think Jenna did it just to make Mom mad. This summer it seemed like anything Mom said to Jenna made her angry, and anything Jenna said to Mom made her angry. And Mom really gets angry when Dad takes Jenna's side, but he's done that ever since I can remember.

It took me a few seconds to realize Jenna was talking about Mom, that she was saying Mom was dead and thatDad had killed her. I didn't believe her and pushed her away from me.

"Stop it, Jenna! That's not funny!" I yelled. Wait until Mom hears about this one! Jenna will really be in trouble. Even Dad will probably be mad at her.

I expected to see the little glint Jenna gets in her eyes when she's being mean, but all I saw was tears.

"Jen?" I said, my voice small again.

"I'm sorry, Jeremy," Mrs. Worthing said softly. She put her arms around both our shoulders and led us over to the couch and sat down between us. I didn't want to hurt her feelings or anything, but I didn't want Mrs. Worthing touching me and I moved out from under her arm and scooted to the end of the couch. Jenna didn't move, however, but seemed to nestle in closer to Mrs. Worthing, who put both arms around her.

It's not that I don't like Mrs. Worthing. She's really nice and says good morning to all the kids as they get off the bus. She knows everybody by name, and that's a lot of names! I don't ride the bus, because school is close to our house, especially when I take the shortcut through the cemetery. The only thing wrong with Mrs. Worthing is that she's tall and skinny, like a wish that's not going to make it. To give good hugs you have to have some soft places, and Mrs. Worthing looks hard all over.

Me, Jenna, and Mrs. Worthing have just been sitting here. Nobody knows what to say. I sure don't. Jenna is sobbing and crying and sniffing all at the same time, and I almost burst out laughing when I think about all the snot that's going to get on Mrs. Worthing's dress. Then I feel kind of stupid for wanting to laugh, but I don't know what to feel or think or do. I wish I could cry, like Jenna, but with her you never know how much is real and howmuch is Jenna just being Jenna. Mom calls her Sarah Bernhardt. She was some great actress from long time ago, and Mom said that when Jenna was born, she didn't cry; she emoted. I'm not sure what that means, but it sounds like Jen.

"What — what happened?" I ask, mainly to try and shut Jenna up with all her crying.

Mrs. Worthing looks at me. Her mouth opens like she's going to say something and then closes again, like she's not sure she should.

"Is Dad in jail?" Jenna asks, her crying quieter now.

"I don't know," Mrs. Worthing says so softly that I can barely hear her.

"Did it happen at home?" I need to know. "I mean, are we going to go home and there'll be blood all over the floor or something?"

Mrs. Worthing sighs and looks at me again. "Your mother was in town around ten this morning —"

"She went to get the New York Times at Sutter's," Jenna and I say at almost the same time, chuckling. Sutter's is a store in the center of town where you can buy birthday cards, stationery stuff, school supplies, newspapers, and magazines. Mother goes there every morning to get the paper, and then to Café DiCarlo down the street, where she sits at the table in the corner by the window and has coffee and a Danish and reads the paper. Everybody in town knows it's Mom's table. She stays up late every night drawing or painting and doesn't get up until nine or so and then goes into town to get the paper and have coffee. When we were little, Dad got us ready for school.

"When she came out, your — Eric shot her."

"Oh, God! Oh, God! Oh, God!" Jenna screams.

I don't believe it. This is all some sick joke everybody's playing on us, and when I get home it'll be like every day. I'll walk in the house, run up to my room and drop my stuff on the bed, then hurry down and Mom'll be sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee. She'll give me a big hug, and I'll feel her breasts beneath my cheek and get that nice funny feeling and want to stay pressed against her for a long time because that feeling seems like it wants to take me somewhere, but Mom doesn't let me hug her for a long time anymore, and she'll go to the stove where there'll be a pot of soup cooking or she'll take a loaf of tomato-parmesan bread out of the oven and make me a cup of some kind of herb tea, and I'll show her my drawing. My drawing! I left it in the art room. I have to get it. I have to get it to show Mom!

"Mrs. Worthing, I have to get my drawing, the one I was working on. I want to show it to my mother when I get home."

"Are you thick or what?" Jenna says. "Didn't you hear what Mrs. Worthing said? Dad killed Rachel. She's dead, Jeremy. She's dead!" Jenna's face looks like a dirty window.

"I have to get my drawing!" I say firmly. "I have to!" And I run out of the office.


Tuesday Afternoon
I still hate Mrs. Worthing from the time I was in fifth grade and Andrea Martin, that bitch, told her I was the one who had drawn the picture of a vagina which had mysteriously appeared on the wall in the girls' bathroom. Mrs. Worthing called Rachel, and I had to stay after school and wash it off. I was really pissed because I had done it in oil crayon, figuring it would be up there a while.

When Mom saw it she was impressed by how realistic my drawing was. I had put in the labia major and the labia minor and all the folds of the vaginal lips like petals of a flower. The only part that wasn't strictly right was that I had the clitoris showing and you can't really see it, but what the hell? I had spent a long time sitting on the floor of my room naked, my legs spread, a mirror between them, looking at my vagina. I filled a three-by-five drawing pad with sketches until I could draw it from memory. I thought it was beautiful and it was mine! I had something that was really beautiful but nobody could see it! That didn't make any sense. I wanted to sketch the vaginas of every girl in my class, but I didn't have the nerve to ask anybody.

Fifth grade was the year my body started changing. I got my period and then, suddenly, I had breasts. I felt kind of weird at first, different, and I walked around with stooped shoulders like Grandfather Eric, hoping nobody would notice, but after a while hiding those babies was hopeless. Mom said I could wear baggy sweaters, but I thought, Screw that! Why should I have to hide my tits like they're something to be ashamed of? The only other girl in my class who was hit with a hormone bomb was Becky Nixon. We had known each other since nursery school and she'd been Miss Prim-and-Proper even then, but I didn't have anybody else I could really talk to and since she and I now had something in common, I figured I'd talk to her. Plus I was curious to see if hers looked like mine, so one day I asked her if I could see her breasts and I'd let her see mine but she freaked out and told everybody I was a les bian. Even if I had been, what made her think she was my type? Bitch!

When I grow up I'm going to hire models and draw their vaginas and have an exhibit in a gallery in Soho or somewhere and it'll be room after room of nothing but vaginas and breasts and nipples — African American, Jewish, Asian, white, even Eskimo if I can find an Eskimo woman to let me draw hers — in watercolor, charcoal, oils, computer graphics — and women will come and they'll be amazed at how beautiful vaginas are and how different they look. They say no two people have the same fingerprints. I bet no two women have vaginas that look alike, either.

Mom liked my technique. I think it was the first time she realized I was talented at something besides clothes and makeup. But she thought I had drawn a vagina on the bathroom wall to get attention. That's what she thinks about everything I do and it pisses me off. Anybody can get attention, like that freak Bonnie Adams, who came to school last week with her hair dyed three shades of blue. So I told Rachel that if I had wanted attention I would've signed my name to my vagina fresco. "I did it because I wanted to teach the girls something about themselves. We're women! That means something and the first thing it means is that your vagina belongs to you. It's between your legs, right? Then it's yours! But how can women know it's theirs when they can't see it? Men hold and see their penises several times a day. Not only can't you hold a vagina, it's got so many different parts it's hard to figure out what's what. It's so weird being a girl. We have a hole that has no other purpose except to bleed, have a penis stuck in it, or a baby come out."

I'd tried to talk about stuff like this with other girls, but they just giggled and blushed. Mom said once that artists show people what they have not seen and don't want to see. What's more unseen and unloved than a vagina?

When I finished my tirade, I was amazed I'd said all that to my mom and I figured she was going to ground me for the rest of my life for talking to her about stuff like that, but she was cool. She actually gave me a smile, a real smile, not one of those fake smiles parents put on when a kid does something they really despise but they can't come up with a reason why it's bad. Mom smiled like she was proud of me. It was one of those moments when I could tell she really loved me and I loved her, too, and I can't remember if I ever told her. Damn!

What made me think about that? Oh yeah. Mrs. Worthing, who has her arms around me. I let her hold me because it makes her feel useful, because she has no clue what to do or say. I don't know what you have to study to be the principal of a school, but I doubt there're any classes called "What to Do When a Student's Father Kills Her Mother."

I was in English class, slouched down in my usual seat in the back row, bored to death. Maybe Red Badge of Courage was a great book once, but not anymore. This is the nineties and who cares if a bunch of guys want to go out and shoot each other? Let 'em! So I was thinking about Larry Sullivan and wondering if I wanted him to take me to the eighth-grade dance next spring. He's real cute. Guys with dark hair and blue eyes make me weak in the knees. So if I wanted him to take me to the dance, I knew I had to start putting the idea in his head now. Guys are clueless about everything except how to kill each other. Anyway, that's where my mind was and I didn't pay any attention when Mr. Carlton, the principal, stuck his head in the door and beckoned for Mr. Whittier to come into the hallway. But when Mr. Whittier came back a few minutes later and said, "Jenna? Mr. Carlton would like to see you," my attention went on full alert. I got up to leave and Mr. Whittier said, "Take your things."

Everybody in the class started hooting. "What'd you do this time, Jenna?" Larry Sullivan shouted, laughing. That was probably his way of telling me he liked me, but I didn't appreciate it, especially since I was wondering myself what I had done. I couldn't think of a thing. Teachers are always on me because "you aren't performing up to your potential," and Mr. Carlton called me in once to discuss what he called my "attitude problem." I can't help it if I think school is a total bore and totally irrelevant to anything having to do with my life. Sure, I know I'm bright and I know if I studied I could get straight As, but I don't care. Tell me what I have to do to get by and that's what I'll do until I get a teacher with brains enough to challenge me.


Excerpted from "When Dad Killed Mom"
by .
Copyright © 2001 Julius Lester.
Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Title Page,
Author's Note,
Chat Page,

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Unerring authenticity. . . . [The book] is spot on."—Chicago Tribune


"A compelling story suffused with raw and honest emotion."—Kirkus Reviews

Customer Reviews

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When Dad Killed Mom 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 38 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is by far the first book i got hooked into... this story has real life experieneces in it, realistic, and IT DOESNT COVER BAD LANGUAGES... unlike other books they dont put anything in it. Students and teenagers like me use bad languages every f---ing DAY! We dont get influenced and its not like it hurts anyone.
saplin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
While the premise seems gruesome, the story focuses on the two children Jenna and Jeremy and how they are supposed to survive this horrendous ordeal and their future. There is also a little bit of mystery of why hte father killed the mother and some secrets the children learn about their parents. I liked the whole premise of looking at how different people, adults and children, deal with grief and shocking events.
Tony2011 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In "When Dad Killed Mom" it starts when the kids found out that their dad killed their mom. The book show the kids respond emotionally and chose sides in the family.
cpiert on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Cheri PiertModule 6Lester, Julius. When Dad Killed Mom. 2001. Harcourt, Inc.: New York.Genre: Controversial/CensorshipThemes Relationships between parent-parent, parent-child, domestic violence, child abuse and coming of age.Age / Grade Appropriateness 12 years old and upAwards: ALA Quick Picks for Reluctant ReadersPlot Summary The story is about siblings Jenna and Jeremy who finds out that their dad killed their mom in clod blooded murder. Each tries to deal with the situation the best way that they can and find themselves question why their dad did it, what are they going to do without their parents and how will they survive after this tragedy. Jenna had to deal with the fact that she gave her mother hell, feeling guilty about why she did the things she did and why she was the person she was and torn about believing in her dad. Jeremy hates his father for what he¿s done but still can¿t figure out how to deal with the situation, but feels like he has a friend in this elementary art teacher and often leans on her for support. Dad tries to claim that he suffered from a temporary insanity moment but after Jeremy finds his mother diary, is able to show the courts that his father is the liar he thought he was. Your critique I really thought the book was very believable and realistic. There was only one part that I was on the fence about but I thought it was a good read. The problems were not solved quickly and I like that the children in the story were able to really look at themselves and put things in perspective. Jenna was able to become a level headed teenager and made herself into the young women that her mother wanted to see. Jeremy finally spoke his feelings and was able to take charge of his life and do what¿s best for him. All the characters were very diverse and were easily identifiable and relatable. Curriculum Uses (Possible uses in the classroom / school library / public library): I think this book could be used in a school library to help students who may have had a parent murdered look deep inside themselves and find the person they want to be. It could also be used in connection with a Shakespearean twist or Greek tragedy theme to it.
lrobe190 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
kewpie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I am a big fan of Julius Lester. I can't believe he wrote this. I usually can't put one of his books down. I had to force myself to get through each chapter. Any other Lester book will seem mindbogglingly amazingly good in comparison to this one. I will still give him props for trying something a little different from his other books.
goodreads on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This reminded me of an Oprah's book club selection. Tragedy, family secrets, coming to terms with loss. The story is told from alternating perspectives of siblings Jenna and Jeremy. Their mother, a famous artist, is shot and killed on a public street by their father, a college psychologist. Slowly the story unravels as to why he killed her (he was having an affair with a student and she was going to get him fired) and how both children come to terms with what happens and learn to move on and do something constructive with their grief. Jenna starts a website for other kids who've lost a parent and Jeremy continues painting and drawing. Through it all it comes out that the dad had witnessed his little sister fall to her death out of a tree and later accidentally ran over his daughter from his first marriage. When he goes to trial he tries to portray himself as an abused husband and the wife as an unstable adulterer. Overall an ok read. The chain of events was a little implausible especially where the trial is concerned and everything is tied up a little too neatly in the end.
bibliophile26 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
e title pretty much provides a plot summary. It is unbelievable the tragedy this family faces. So intriguing my mother-in-law read it too. Not your average YA book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
CoyoteClan is the new name for this clan. Would you like to be leader?, daypelt mewed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It is an amazing book! Suspense and a murder, its the perfect book for those who love crime and family violence!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Jonny Grajales More than 1 year ago
This is a really intresting book. I like how it tells the story by two siblings. This is a HAVE TO READ book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
For school I had to read a book and right a review on it and post it to our school website. I couldn't find a book; so I just randomly picked a book. After reading it for a half an hour, I couldn't put it down! Its a good book to read if you like realistic books and books that you can't seem to get enough of!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
cheyanne More than 1 year ago
I've just finished up reading ''When Dad Killed Mom'' by Julius Lester. It has been a very interesting book to read and definitely have enjoyed it. The book can pretty much be defined by the title. It shows the emotions and actions two children went through after there father was thrown in prison for killing there mother in broad daylight. The author explains his reasoning for writing this book in the back of it. He explains that when he looks at people he wonders what they have gone through or if they are happy when they go home at night. He said he had lost alot of people close to him as a child, but never a parent. He never understood how someone so young could deal with a tragedy so bad like one of there parents passing away.(Authors note pg.197) So, from that he pretty much wrote the book from a little bit of experience and alot of curiosity. I believe he wrote this book for others who are also curious on what children in that situation would go through. It gives people a little sense of what they are going through and how you should act towards them if you knew someone who did experience it. This book is narrated by the two children in the story, Jenna and Jeremy, who lost there mother. I feel that it is very important that they tell the story because its there emotions that we want to know about. while alot of people have been on the outside looking in, many have not been there or experienced a death of a parent. The two characters take turns narrating in this story so you get the view from being a little boy and a teenage girl. This story is very moving because it is very accurate. I haven't read anything in it that has been unbelievable, it all seems to be something that could really happen or something i have heard happen before. I really don't connect with anyone in the book. Everyone in it had encountered the death of the children's mother. I haven't had anyone real close to me die so i cant say that i connect with them. I do believe that the author did get his point across that he wanted because, I did feel the emotions and sadness that the kids felt while dealing with everything. I cant think of a specific movie or television show that is comparable to it. It would have to be a movie where a child's parent dies so you can encounter the emotion and the things the go through like in this book. The title is ''When Dad Killed Mom'' and that is exactly what the book is about. The title gives a sense of what is going to happen in the book but there is so much more to go with it. I don't think that this book could be recommended to a certain person but definitely a person who is interested in that type of stuff. Its not a mystery book so if that's what your looking for this is not it. My final conclusions of the book are that it was a good book. I don't read many books so it might just be my opinion. This is the first book i have read by Lester and I wouldn't mind reading another. It was enjoyable at times and at other times you cant wait to hear whats next.''The police found him at home sitting on the front door step with a gun pointed at his head like he was going to kill himself''(pg. 18). If this quote doesn't get you interested don't worry it only gets better. I think that the ending could have been more interesting but the ending shows the truth and how it was supposed to end. I would rate this book with 4 stars and not 5 because I heard that Lester has written books that are ten times better. For being the on
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
princesa74 More than 1 year ago
I read this book one year ago at the school where I work at. Unfurtunatelly, when the librarian discover the language used in the book she decided to removed it from the shelves. I've been looking for it with my coworkers, language art teachers, but none of the have it. I really want to reread it. I really enjoyed reading it; eventhogh, I am an English second language learner.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful book filled with twists and turns. Julius Lester is top notch. This is a MUST read for anyone who enjoys to read about teens dealing with trying to find out who they are or dealing with a lost. This book uses strong language at times but not all the time. I highly recommend this book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
When Dad Killed Mom was a great book and it held my attention all the way through. I recamend this book for any teenager. It showed real life and real situations and i really enjoyed it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think that this is a great book and it shows that their is no such thing as a perfect family. I think that this book shows how to overcome things