Tiffany D. Jackson
Katherine Tegen Books
January 24th, 2017
I read the synopsis to Allegedly a few months ago and by the time I got around to reading it a few days ago, I barely remembered what it was about. There was a crime. That part was evident in the title, but the rest was a haze as I turned the first page. I had no expectations going into this outside of the usual “I hope this is a good reading experience” thoughts but after the final page, I knew I had something that blew my expectations out of the water.
Allegedly is set in New York and it’s about 16-year-old Mary who, at nine-years-old, was convicted of the murder of an infant. She’s in a group home for teen girls, with an ankle monitor, when she finds out she’s pregnant and it’s this discovery that prompts her to set the record straight and tell the truth of what really happened. It’s a story with big stakes and the reader is pulled along with the promise of the truth if we play our part in the narrative: a witness.
Jackson’s writing is phenomenal. She knows how to withhold information and when to give us the answers we crave which is harder to do than it looks. Hold back too much and readers get angry but offer up too much and you’ve ruined the mystique. The result ended up being a slow start that eventually got me racing through it in the last few chapters. I enjoyed the different ways the characters spoke, which added a diversity of experiences like Ms. Claire’s West Indies accent (she is Mary’s SAT tutor) and the AAVE (African-America Vernacular English) which is used by Ted, Mary’s boyfriend, the group home girls, and Mary.
Jackson also made me feel angry. This book is essentially about how the institutions and people who are supposed to protect us can cause more harm than good. There are so many adults who should be reprimanded and stripped of their positions for how royally they’ve messed up. Mary’s mother shouldn’t have been looking after a child. The agents of the criminal justice system — the correctional officer, social worker, therapist, group home supervisor etc — were either incompetent or flat out harmful especially when they’re responsible for minors. For most of these kids/teens, the failure of the adults in their lives is why they’re in the system, which has more adults failing them adding to the vicious cycle.
None of this is new to me but it may be new to readers; both teens and adults. I will say that characters in this book have done some terrible things or have accepted the terrible things that others have done. I think the book makes a point to talk about the wider system where all of these terrible things operate and doesn’t let anyone off for their deeds.
I highly recommend picking up this book. It’s my first YA of the new year and what a great way to start it. I will also add a content warning for some mention of sexual assault/violence in the book.