Monday, December 26, 2016

Allegedly



There are very few books that have left me stunned after I read the last word.  I mean actually stunned into silence.  Allegedly is one of them.

Mary Addison is famous, and not in a good way.  When she was nine years old, she was tried and convicted of killing three-month-old Alyssa.  Mary is black, and Alyssa was white.  Mary's spent her entire adolescence in a sort of solitary confinement she calls "baby jail"--the system could never let a baby killer go free, but neither could they put a nine-year-old in with all the other female inmates.  She explains,
"Understand, there's a big difference between baby jail and juvie, where the rest of the girls in the house come from.  Juvie is for badass kids who do stuff like rob bodegas, steal cars, maybe stupidly try to kill someone.  Baby jail is for kids who've done way worse, like me."

Now, Mary is at a home, which is the least "homey" place she could be.  A tracking device encircles her ankle, and all of her movements are logged and cross-examined.  Ms. Stein uses the girls in her "care" as unpaid drudges, and does little to monitor the threats simmering just below the surface.  But, she does get to go out and work at a nursing home, where she steals time with her secret boyfriend, Ted.

When Mary finds out she's pregnant, her already surreal life becomes even more complicated.  There's her hallelujah-just-pray-it-out-don't-talk-about-the-bad-stuff-see-you-next-week mother, who was nominally babysitting Alyssa when Mary allegedly killed her.  There's Kisha and Marisol and the other girls in the house, who target Mary and her roommate, the quiet, mousy New Girl.  There's Ted, who supports Mary and wants to run away with her and who steals prenatal vitamins so their Bean can grow strong.  Ted, who's too good to be true.  There's the question of getting her GED and passing the SAT and getting into college, which is what Mary wants more than anything. Except maybe to keep her baby.

Who would let an alleged baby killer keep a baby of her own?  Desperate, Mary contacts a program that helps people who have been abused by the justice system.  As Bean grows larger in her body, Mary has to decide whether or not the awful truth about that night is worth telling.  And if anyone will believe her.

Allegedly is a book that truly has it all: engaging characters, a twisty plot, an examination of racial politics and social (in)justice, and a clear, strong voice.  I could hear Mary and Ted and Kisha and New Girl in my head.  Jackson has crafted characters that are so real that they will walk around inside your head, fighting and screaming to be let out, long after you finish the book.  She also deftly examines the inequalities in the "justice" system--one that would condemn a nine year old girl as a murderer because she is black and the baby she allegedly killed was white.  Mary, who was still a baby herself, had people literally calling for her blood.  It's sickening, but it's also searingly honest.  Mary is automatically guilty because of the color of her skin.  This happens every day, and it needs to stop.

And then, as I said on Twitter: Holy Mary, Mother of Plot Twists.  Cue the jaw drop and stunned silence and frantic applause.  Yes, it's that good.

While I've already awarded Angie Thomas' The Hate U Give the Morris, the Printz, the National Book Award, and the Coretta Scott King, I'm wondering if I can co-nominate Allegedly.  Ah, whatever.  Book awards make me cranky anyway.  What you really need to do is pre-order or ask your librarian to pre-order Allegedly and be stunned by what Tiffany D. Jackson has crafted.  And then hopefully she will write even more mind-blowing books.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

Please do not let my incoherent, fumbling review of this book put you off.  It's what happens when I read something exquisite--my brain cells short out.  Just remember: in 2017, you have a date with Allegedly.

I received an ARC of this title from the publisher.

2 comments:

  1. The youngest murderer in Australian history was a boy of seven, who killed his baby brother in about 1910. In court, he barely reached the top of the dock. Even the prosecutor couldn't bring himself to try a child that young. He ended up going to a boys' home, though I haven't been able to find out what happened after he grew up. And then there were the two little boys in England who murdered a toddler. There's a heartbreaking picture of the child being led away by them. They have

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  2. ...had to be given new IDs so they can get on with their lives. Kids can and do commit horrible crimes, and not only in fiction.

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