When I first heard about this book, I was intrigued. Allegedly is about a black girl named Mary who was convicted of killing a three-month-old white baby when she was only nine-years-old. The story follows her life of imprisonment to when she is sixteen-years-old and gets pregnant herself. Now she must prove to the criminal justice system that she is a capable loving mother so they won't take her child away from her to put him in foster care.
That premise alone was so enticing to me. I wanted to see how Tiffany D. Jackson was going to cover the subject of race, especially when it comes to a serious topic such as murder and the justice system. I wanted to know what happened to Mary when she was young that ended up with a baby being killed. I was interested in finding out so, naturally, when I saw this book at my library, I decided to bring it home... and I was utterly disappointed.
Let's start with the only positive comment I have for this book. The writing. Jackson clearly has talent. She was able to weave a story about a girl and the unfairness of her trial because of her race. And that, I feel, makes this story an interesting one. I managed to read this book in one sitting because it was an engaging read. Her writing is strong and I can see her improving as time goes on and I hope she does continue to write.
Now on to things I did not like about this book. Most of them having to do with the perpetuation of stigmas. The main one being of mental illness. There's already the belief that anyone with a mental illness will become murderers at some point. That stereotype is not only false but it's dangerous. For the one who has a mental illness and the people who surround them. Mental illness is something many people must live with, but with therapy and (sometimes) medication, they can live happy and healthy lives. What this book mentions is that mental illness gets you into trouble. You end up hurting maybe even killing people. Especially the people you love. And I do not agree with that sentiment. As I've said, there are many people living with a mental illness that are able to live happy lives. And I understand that the characters in this book have harsh lives, I do. But almost all the characters in this book have a mental disorder and they all end up wanting to hurt someone. Not one person with a mental illness in this book is shown to be a good person. They are all "crazy." That is harmful representation. It uses a stigma that's already well ingrained into our society and further enhances that stigma without challenging it one bit.
Another problem I have with the book is the fat-shaming. Every time someone that was slightly overweight, the main character had to call them disgusting. She mentioned that how she couldn't understand why people wouldn't change their diet if they were over two hundred pounds. And there are other times when she just says really nasty things when it came to people's weight. There's also quite a bit of homophobic slurs spread throughout the book in reference to one of the girls who stays at the group home with Mary. The worst part about these two horrendous actions is that it is never challenged within the text. Much like with mental illness, the book further adds to the notion that people who are fat or people who are gay are disgusting. That they are going to "rot in hell." And not once does the main character or another character question it. Meaning they agree with such toxic sentiments.
Last thing I want to cover is how there were a lot of unnecessary scenes throughout the book. One is the mutilation of a cat. Why? Why kill the cat? Especially if you're not going to do anything with it. We don't even find out who killed the cat. It's just there to be there. The cat-killing scene served no purpose to the plot whatsoever. I guess it was there just to show that the girls in the group home are "crazy." Another thing that was unnecessary is introducing Sarah, making her to be Mary's (only) friend, just to take that away. Because Mary doesn't have enough to deal with, let's add "crazy" best friend to that list. Oh, and the fact that Mary's only solace is in a man's arms? Really? A man that helped his friends rape a girl? A man who cheats on her? A man who claims he loves her but does everything to contradict that? Not to mention he shows signs of being abusive. There are times when he and Mary get in an argument and he forcefully grabs her and pushes her against walls. But is that ever challenge? No. Mary LIKES that he's being forceful with her. She even says so in the text! So not only does this book maintain the ideas that mental illness, fat-shaming, and homophobia are okay, it's also advocating for abusive relationships. All these aspects are what really ruin the book for me.
There's so many things that I don't like about this book. Everything that I mention are the main reasons why this book rubbed me the wrong way. I could go into further details, especially when it comes to Mary because she's another reason why this book didn't work for me, but that will reveal some things about the ending that I don't want to spoil in case you still want to read the book. I will just say that the negatives outshine the positive.
If you still want to read this book, go ahead. Like I said, the writing is actually pretty good. Just remember there's rape, strong language, murder, violence to every degree manageable, fat-shaming, homophobia, and domestic abuse. If you're okay with reading about those things, then give this book a read. I hope it enjoy it a lot more than I did.