Publication: January 24th 2017
Publisher: Katharine Tegen Books
Pages: 387 pages
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult, Contemporary, Mystery
My Rating: ⛤⛤⛤⛤
“‘Well, people tend not to think clearly when a black girl is suspected of killing a little white girl.'” (Jackson 222).
Mary Addison killed a baby when she was nine-years-old. Allegedly. She never hardly spoke when questioned or at the trial, and when she did she said she didn’t remember what happened to baby Alyssa, and that was enough to lock her in jail for six years before she was released into a group home, which is where the reader first meets Mary.
Allegedly is a difficult and important book to read. It deals with issues of the justice system and racial bias, the poor conditions of group homes, as well as how complicated family relationships can be. As a white woman who has never been a part of the foster system or a criminal case, their were many things in the novel that shocked me and reminded me of my own privilege. Readings books like Allegedly reminds me of how important it is to read, write, and publish diverse literature so these themes of recognizing privilege, learning of new cultures and experiences that readers may not have experienced so that they can be educated and aware of the struggles less privileged individuals experience.
Mary is a very interesting protagonist, a quiet and intelligent teenager who has been deeply affected by her time spent in baby jail and in the group home. Mary talks about what she witnessed happen to other prisoners (and a few instances of what she experienced) in jail as well as many examples of the violence she experiences daily in the group home from her supposed “guardians” and the other girls living in the house. Knowing that Jackson interviewed people who have lived in group homes and foster care for this novel makes Mary’s situation all the more chilling considering it’s based on fact.
I also think this is the first book I’ve read with a pregnant protagonist, and a teenager no less. It was strange though that since the plot deals with Mary bringing back her case that no one in the public seemed to be aware of it. Considering the amount of protests and backlash she faced as a child with the original trial, I expected her to deal with a lot more public out-lash in the book about her trying to prove her innocence, especially with the fact that she was pregnant.
As well as Mary’s narration, we also get snippets from interviews conducted from the first trial to the current re-investigation, and bits of newspaper articles, psych evaluations, and excerpts from the many books written about Mary. While I enjoyed these parts in the book as it added another layer to the plot and allowed readers to see how other’s viewed Mary, I’ve seen it done better in other books. A lot of these snippets would come in the middle of chapters, and while most of the time they were relevant to what Mary was currently talking about, they didn’t always line up.
Allegedly is an addicting novel that forces readers to recognize their privilege and to acknowledge the ugly truth that comes with racial bias in the justice system and Jackson does a terrific job making this point clear for most of the book. However, in the last few pages of the novel the story takes a turn, one that while it did shock me didn’t seem to fit in with the story as a whole and sort of complicated the overall message the novel was trying to convey. I’m a sucker for a good twist, but are twists always necessary, especially when a novel already has a solid ground-work and message set up? This gets even more complicated when Jackson has mentioned on her website that she is considering writing a sequel to Allegedly. Now, authors can do whatever they wish, and obviously know when to expand or end their stories, but I honestly don’t see how Allegedly could be drawn out into a sequel, not without having a similar plot as it’s predecessor.