I read Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson was released on January 24, 2017 and I read it on July 8, 2017 – in a single day. I stayed up late to finish it, and it’s taken me a week and a half to try and review/react.
The number one thing I need you to remember when reading this book is the evergreen wisdom of Dr. Gregory House:
Every person in this story is broken and/or jaded and/or unwell and no one is honest about anything, either with others or with themselves.
A synopsis from Amazon:
Mary B. Addison killed a baby.
Allegedly. She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: a white baby had died while under the care of a churchgoing black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it?
There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted—and their unborn child—to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary’s fate now lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But does anyone know the real Mary?
Part of what drives the tension of this novel is that you don’t know the truth, and you gradually become aware that Mary is not a reliable narrator; even less reliable than your average teenager due to both who she is as a person and the trauma that she has experienced. This book is full of awkward, painful encounters and conversations, and relationship dynamics that are more about the benefit to the parties rather than actual emotion or connection. It’s hard because you want Mary to connect or have the opportunity to connect so badly, but at the same time her walls are justifiable. Mary has lived a ridiculous life – and I don’t mean that in the pejorative, I mean absurd. Darkly, darkly absurd. Like a clown car of terrible things and sometimes you’re not sure which parts are true.
The thing I want you to believe is true: this is the worst case of how the system works, but it is in fact accurate to the system. Jackson mentions in her acknowledgments the young women that she interviewed – please remember that when you read this book. This is not an example of the extremes used for drama in a novel – it’s part and parcel normal. The craziness is the individual case, not that the system has so catastrophically failed the young men and women in this novel – it’s the most realistic piece. Also, next time there’s a wild story I want you to consider how media affects court cases and the opportunity to have a fair trial. None of Mary’s experience with the system surprised me, and almost further justified her behavior while I was reading.
I saw some of the twists coming, and I’m not sure how intentional that was for some of them. However, it didn’t effect my engagement with the story because it made me wonder more how the revelations or changes would change the course of events, or if Mary would get what she wanted. It also makes you question if you want Mary to get what she wants. I’d be curious to talk to people who have a positive impression of literally any character by the end of this book. You don’t hate all of the characters by any means, but if you finish the book and aren’t upset, uncomfortable, or full of pity or empathy for these characters you need to read it again.
There is a pretty big revelation in the last pages of the novel. This is not surprising. What was surprising is that the reader spends the entire novel inside Mary’s head – some of the things revealed feel totally out of nowhere, or not setup as much as I would like them to be earlier in the story. However, given that Mary is unreliable and we are simply another audience that Mary is performing to, maybe I am just struggling with being caught off guard so currently it’s not a negative comment so much as my brain is still going “WTF?!?!?!” It felt like there were two Mary’s at the end, and I am still sorting through the pieces of the story in my brain and resolving them into a coherent picture.
I had some really fun conversations with my mother-in-law when I finished as well – she’s a court reporter so she’s definitely seen some shit, and I work in Title IX so I’ve seen plenty myself.
In conclusion, this book will scare the shit out of you and I highly recommend it. I enjoyed Mary’s voice as well as the tension and frustration I felt while reading. It was a new emotional experience for me – I think a lot of books lean toward heartbreak and make me cry – and this was not that kind of emotional experience. I was definitely emotional, but I was almost…furious? exhausted? I’m not sure, but I wish more books would do this. 4/5 stars for me, and definitely adding Tiffany D. Jackson as someone to track their next release.