December 26, 2017

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Allegedly

Tiffany D. Jackson

Pub. 2017

387 pgs.

Genres: Mystery, Realistic Fiction

Summary / Review / TLDR / Recommended For / Issues / Themes / Grade


Summary

Six years ago, nine-year-old Mary Addison, a black girl, was convicted of accidentally killing Alyssa Richardson, the white baby her mother nannied. She spent the rest of her childhood in prison, most of it in solitary for her protection. Now, at fifteen, she’s been released to live in a group home for other girls—prison by another name, ankle bracelet included.

Mary knows the truth about that night. She knows she didn’t kill the baby. No one would have listened to her back then, though, so it was better to stay silent than to tell the truth. But, she thinks, if she can hold out a little longer she’ll age out of the system. She’s smart enough to go to college if she can pass her SATs and get exonerated for her crime. She can get away from the violent girls in the group home, from the matrons who don’t care as long as no one is seriously injured. She’ll make a real life for herself.

And then she discovers she is pregnant.

Mary’s life becomes a race against time. The only way she can keep her baby is to prove she didn’t kill Alyssa all those years ago, but with everyone in her world against her, is it possible for the truth to come out?

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Review

High-school English classes are always concerned with “canon.” You know the books: typically written at least fifty years ago, mostly by old (dead) white guys, thought to express the Most Important Wisdom that any reader might need to know. It’s true—some of them do have either cultural or thematic significance. Unfortunately, so many of those classes are so concerned with what those (old) (dead) (white) authors had to say that they ignore amazing new authors and their messages, many of which are stated just as eloquently and are more meaningful to our world today.

Allegedly is one of those books.

It frustrated me so much. I spent most of it just completely angry at the injustice of Mary’s situation and upset that I can’t change the words on the pages. I’ve read some difficult books for this blog, books that deal with horrible situations and unhappy characters, but Allegedly is definitely the hardest. I hate all the girls in the group home, I hate the idiot people who are supposed to be taking care of everyone, I hate that nobody is listening to anybody and that we have all these examples of how she’s actually a good kid, but everybody in the system is “too tired” to do their jobs and actually see justice be done.

One part that really bothered me was how concerned for her mother Mary was. At one point in the book she even asked if she can in good conscience send her mother to jail even though that’s exactly what her mother did to her! Her mother was perfectly content to go live her life and let her daughter take the rap for the murder of the baby. He’ll Mary having been through all this stuff that she went through could be like, oh, I don’t want my mother to have two with it actually pisses me off. Logically I know it happens. I know there are kids who come from such horrible backgrounds that they do have loyalty too terrible, abusive parents, but it’s so aggravating to see. It’s the kind of situation where I wish I could give this book to all the kids who are dealing with this situation so I can point at it and say look, your parents are terrible they don’t care about you they don’t want you around they only care about themselves so stop trying to protect them stop trying to justify what they do and stick up for yourself because they obviously aren’t. And as for the parents to behave like this, I just don’t even have any words.

The absolute worst part of it is that every single word in Allegedly, every situation, every scenario, is completely believable. I know deep down that it happens all the time, more than anyone would care to admit. Paperwork is forged by overworked, overstressed, and under-caring “professionals.” The people who are supposed to protect people in the system judge them just as much as internet trolls and couch warriors. What happened to Mary in the story has probably played out a thousand times at least this year, and it’s absolutely aggravating. That message, that it can happen so easily and remorselessly, that people like Reba and Mrs. Stein can spread their cruelty behind closed doors and do just barely enough to protect their own skins like modern-day Miss Minchins—that people can be manipulated so thoroughly without anyone to stop and say, “Wait, this can’t be right”—this is the message that sticks with the reader long after the book is done. The racism, the casual abuse, all of it. It’s the kind of book that, for lack of better explanation, kicks you in the ass and screams at you while you’re down, begging for attention and for someone to change something. To make it all better.

The only part of this book that I wish had been cut is the very last chapter. It doesn’t fit the tone, and I don’t feel anything was revealed in a meaningful way during it. It almost negates the message of the rest of the book, to be honest. It felt so sloppy that I wondered if the author had been urged by her editor or publisher to include it, despite the rest of the book being perfectly fine.

Regardless, I’m not saying to get rid of the canon completely. It’s probably important for people to have read some Hemingway, Faulkner, and Wharton, if not the Bard himself. But this book, with its depictions of the justice system, the mistreatment of children and teens living in group homes, the harsh realities faced daily by people their age…these are the kinds of things high schoolers need to know about. They should read Allegedly, discuss it in class, imagine solutions to all the problems described. Too soon they’re going to be adults themselves, and it will be up to them to attempt to right these wrongs.

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TLDR

Timely and tragic, this book would be perfect for English class discussions about truth, equality, the media, and the modern criminal justice system.

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Recommended for…

  • Addition to a “modern canon” of high school literature
  • Anyone interested in social issues
  • People who love a good, gritty mystery

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Issues

  • Bullying: characters bully one another
  • Death: references to character deaths
  • Deceit: characters trick one another to save their own skins
  • Emotional Abuse: characters are manipulated and twisted by authority figures
  • Lying: characters lie throughout
  • Murder: references to murder; characters try to kill each other
  • Natural Disaster: a hurricane strikes the city at one point
  • Physical Abuse: references to characters being physically abused
  • Prejudice: characters make prejudiced remarks; racism is a plot point
  • Religion: references to prayer and Christian practices/ceremonies
  • Sex: characters engage in consensual sexual activity
  • Sexual Abuse: references to sexually abuse by authority figures
  • Swearing: characters swear throughout
  • Theft: characters steal from one another repeatedly
  • Verbal Abuse: characters are verbally abused
  • Violence: characters attack one another; references to violent acts

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Themes

  • Death
  • Determination
  • Education
  • Family
  • Friendship
  • Growing Up
  • Honesty
  • Identity
  • Justice
  • LGBTQA
  • Mental Health
  • Overcoming Adversity
  • Pregnancy
  • Responsibility
  • Right vs. Wrong
  • Romantic Love

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Grade

Main Character 2
Subcast 2
Setting Development 2
Exploration of Conflict 2
Satisfying Resolution 0
Consideration of Themes 2
Didactic Tone 2
Suspension of Disbelief 2
Imagery and Description 2
Compelling Storytelling 2
Author’s Style 2
Rhythm and Pace of Book 2
Mechanics (spelling, grammar, punctuation) 2
Predictability 2
Reader Enjoyment 2
Total 28/30
93%

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