When Jeff Comes Home

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
When Jeff Comes Home Book Poster Image
Heartbreaking, intense story of boy freed after kidnapping.

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 2 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will find this book gripping and hard to put down. Parents may want to use some of the questions in our "Families Can Talk About" section to help teen readers delve a little deeper into the book's content.

Positive Messages

This book shows how a kidnapping impacts not only the victim, but also his family.  It does end on a hopeful note. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jeff's behavior is erratic and disturbing, though for good reason. He will help readers understand the difficulties of dealing with abuse, and how much healing needs to happen.  


Jeff is kidnapped at knifepoint. He is whipped and forced to perform sexual acts to get food and stay safe, none of which is described in detail (When Ray makes Jeff take off his wet clothes, Ray has a "bulge" in his pants. Nude photos of Jeff are found.)


Occasional use of four-letter expletives, and various epithets for homosexual.


Several products mentioned by name.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Some teen drinking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this book is less about the kidnapping and molestation than about the emotional aftermath. Though not graphic and done as tastefully as possible given the subject matter, it's still very powerful and disturbing. It does end on a hopeful note, and will certainly help teen readers understand the impact of abuse, and how long and complicated the healing process can be.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Teen, 13 years old Written bysandra2686646 February 20, 2011
I loved this book. It helped understand that abuse doesn't just affect the person that was abused but also the family of the person. I read it when I w... Continue reading

What's the story?

Three years ago Jeff was kidnapped at knifepoint. Now, at 16, he has been let go by his kidnapper, and returns home. But a new ordeal is just beginning. His kidnapper, Ray, though gone and eventually arrested, still controls his life. Jeff lives in a world of fear and self-loathing that causes him to push away his family and friends.Hounded by the media, taunted by his schoolmates, and pressed for information by the police and FBI, Jeff at first refuses to talk about it, and denies that Ray did anything to him. But when Ray is arrested, nude pictures of Jeff are found, and Ray claims their relationship was consensual.

Is it any good?

Few stories about kidnapped teens deal with molestation of the victim and its aftermath, especially not in a novel for teens; Atkins treats the more lurid aspects delicately and carefully. She reserves the hard-hitting realism for Jeff's emotional state after his return, which she handles without a misstep or false moment, though the absence of a therapist seems odd. The major characters are three-dimensional, each with failings to match his strength and patience.

But it is Jeff whose feelings ring truest. The most powerful moment in the story is early, when his little brother Brian nags him into playing a game, and Jeff resurrects a nasty version of Staredown that Ray would force him to play. As Jeff sits on the sofa, filled with self-loathing, the horror and empathy his siblings feel over what he has endured is shown clearly when a shaken and tearful Brian immediately apologizes for making him remember it. Moments like that make this book hard to put down -- and hard to forget.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about this book's difficult content. It was named a best book for young adults by the American Library Association in 2000, but has also been restricted in some school libraries. Should parents be required to give permission for teens to read gritty books like this one -- or is censorship always a bad idea?

  • What makes this book a young adult novel? How would the story have been different if the author had written it for an adult audience? Is it only the age of the character -- or are there some plotting choices and messages that make this book more applicable to teen readers?

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