A REVIEW by ALEXA DUNCAN
TRIGGER WARNING: This book and subsequent review discuss the death of an infant, as well as other disturbing content. Discretion is advised.
Some of you eagle-eyed readers may remember that I wrote a review of Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson last year as part of New Release Friday. That book shook me to my core, and I knew I wanted to read Jackson’s other book, Allegedly at some point. I just never got around to it until now. And boy I’m glad that I finally did, because this book is good. Really good. Great, even.
Allegedly tells the story of sixteen-year-old Mary Addison. Mary has spent her life in what she calls “baby jail,” and now resides in a group home. Now, at this point, you may be wondering what Mary’s crime was. Her crime is printed right on the book’s flap: She killed a baby. Allegedly. Mary is a black teen, while the baby she allegedly killed is white, giving this story an entirely new layer that Jackson carefully parses out, exposing racial injustices in the legal system as well as telling the harrowing tale of one teen against the world. To make things even more complicated, Mary is pregnant. She is set on keeping her baby despite what the system may want, and the book kicks off from there.
Allegedly is a brutal book. It’s hard to read and none too pleasant, but I couldn’t put it down. I flew through this book despite being sick and couldn’t stop reading until I was finished. Mary is a fascinating character, and totally unreliable in her narration. There were some instances where I felt she was telling the truth–that she didn’t kill Alyssa, the baby–but then there were other times where I thought that she had done it. The use of first person narration is especially effective in this book because we, the readers, are always in Mary’s head, however dark her head may be. Interspersed throughout Mary’s point of view are sections from interviews, newspaper articles, and books all discussing Mary’s case. Some describe her as a confused little girl who was wrongfully convicted while others paint her as a murderous psychopath who will never be fully understood.
That, I think, is one of the main theses of this book: No one is ever fully understood, and we all have darkness in us that we may never comprehend.
The other characters in this book don’t stand out as much as Mary does, but they serve their purpose. The other girls in Mary’s group home delight in tormenting her, and even push her down the stairs when she’s six months pregnant. The group home’s managers torment everyone and seemingly hate their jobs. Ted, Mary’s boyfriend, is nice enough, and believes whole heartedly that Mary didn’t kill Alyssa. And then we have Mary’s mother. Mentally unstable and abusive, her mother is deeply religious and begged Mary to take the blame for Alyssa’s death. Mary did, and she’s been suffering ever since.
One question that I repeatedly asked myself throughout this novel is: Who really did it? Was it Mary? Or was it her mother? I could never quite tell. I was riveted the entire time, though. Mary’s struggles are heartbreaking. She goes through hardship after hardship, and all the while, we never know the truth. That is, until the end.
BIG SPOILERS FOR THE ENDING OF THE BOOK…
It turns out that, on the very last page, Mary actually did kill Alyssa? Maybe? She also poured bleach in her group home owner’s coffee? And she actually killed Alyssa? I think? I can’t quite be sure but the revelation made me yell at the book. I couldn’t believe Mary actually did it. Despite Mary being totally unreliable the whole book, I really wanted to believe that she didn’t do it. But she did. She confessed to the killing–not directly, but still–on some of the very last pages, and when she did, my jaw hit the floor. That’s not the only twist you’ll find in the book, but probably the biggest one. It was nuts.
Allegedly is a searing, surprising novel and once it takes you, it won’t let you go. I’d highly recommend it if you’re looking for something that will make you think. You can check out our copy at the Argenta Library today!