August 30, 2004 12:00 PM

New Jersey has boasted many bards: Old-timers have Sinatra; the blue-collar crowd, Springsteen; the intellectual set, author Philip Roth. Sensitive suburban youth? Now they’ve got the Braff brothers: Scrubs star Zach, whose movie directorial debut (in which he also acts), Garden State, has earned rave reviews as an East Coast answer to The Graduate; and Joshua, whose first novel, The Unthinkable Thoughts of Jacob Green, a coming-of-age tale about a Jersey youngster due out next month, is winning praise for its dark humor. “There’s serendipity here,” says Joshua, 36, of the timing of the two releases—and the similar subject matter: Both take on the malaise of suburbia, life with a psychotherapist parent, and the challenges of romance. (Joshua is married to a software marketer; Zach is single.) “My brother has a wonderful ability to make sad stories funny,” says Zach, 29. “The way he describes things, you can relate. Of course, I could even more than most.”

No wonder, since both Braffs drew on their shared upbringing in South Orange, N.J., as two of four children of a psychologist mother and lawyer father, who split in 1983. All that fictional family dysfunction doesn’t bug Mom and Dad. “They’re both extremely proud,” says Joshua, “because they know that the characters aren’t exactly them.”

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