Girls can’t be murderers. What can our society do with them? No girl can be sweet and soft with the blood of an innocent person on their hands. But Mary Addison challenged this norm at 9 years old when she was convicted of killing a baby. Allegedly (Katherine Tegan Books, January 24, 2017), a Young Adult novel by Tiffany D. Jackson opens up with this cryptic information, mentally preparing the reader for the rousing plot to come. Set primarily in a group home of argumentative teenage girls, we get to know a now sixteen-year-old Mary who has to deal with the perils of adolescence while wearing the covert label of murderer. As the story unravels, we realize like a number of childhoods there are deep secrets that turned Mary into the girl she is today.
What’s most frightening about Allegedly is beyond the twists and turns of a good thriller. Jackson ingeniously weaves into the story hard truths about our society. So much that it becomes uncomfortable to read through the hurdles Mary faces as she attempts to make a better life for herself. From being encouraged to not apply to college by counselors to not having the proper identification to take the SAT test, this book reveals the seemingly small but powerful impediments juvenile convicts encounter when reentering society. Not just through Mary, but through other characters like her lover Ted, who is forced to leave his group home and become homeless after turning 18 years old.
Though the tribulations of a child murderer may seem justifiable, Jackson also exposes how children typically commit these crimes because they were introduced to them. In Mary’s case, we learn from a series of flashbacks and an awkwardly strained relationship with her mother that her childhood wasn’t the best. More importantly, Mary cautiously reveals throughout the story that her murder case may have been handled with the same lack of care as her childhood. Maybe Mary only killed this baby allegedly. Perhaps, she was convicted due to the negligence in the criminal justice system that now is causing her frustration.
Despite the enigmatic and gruesome storyline, Allegedly also instills in us a great bit of hope. No matter what obstacle Mary faced, she relentlessly found a solution. Also, angelic characters like her SAT tutor, who literally gave Mary the clothes off her back, represent the countless real-life youth advocates and supporters who help “troubled” youth find alternative paths to success everyday. Yet, the glimmers of optimism that console us while reading this dark story only lead to an ending as allusive as the beginning of the book. For what we come to know by reading Allegedly is that the child nobody wants is usually created by our society. And after they are created, we don’t leave them much choice but to keep making the same detrimental mistakes just to survive.