Murderino Mayhem

30037870Allegedly, by Tiffany D. Jackson (2017)

Opening line: “Some children are born bad, plain and simple.”

Ever since a grad school friend visited last month and introduced me to the My Favorite Murder podcast, I’ve been a little true crime crazy. I finally watched The People vs OJ Simpson on Netflix and have been diving into some deep Wikipedia holes. So when Allegedly was selected as our next book club read, I was stoked.

Mary Addison was nine when the infant daughter of her mother’s friend was found murdered in Mary’s home. Mary’s distraught mother told police that Mary and the baby, Alyssa, had been alone in Mary’s room sleeping. But now, baby Alyssa was dead, due to asphyxiation, not to mention the purple bruises covering her tiny body. Something terrible happened, and Mary’s not talking.

The public outrage over the murder quickly convicts young Mary of this horrifying crime, and she is sentenced to six years in “baby jail”, where she ends up spending a lot of time in isolation. when she is released, she is placed on house arrest until age 18 in a group home of other teen girls, who apparently hate her. Part of her sentencing includes daily volunteer hours at a local retirement home, where she has fallen in love with fellow parolee, Ted, and now finds herself with a baby of her own on the way. But she quickly learns that with her criminal history, the state isn’t likely going to let her keep her baby. For Mary, that’s what finally pushes her over the edge. It’s what finally pushes her to tell the truth about what happened that night seven years ago. It’s finally time that everyone knows she didn’t murder baby Alyssa.

The narrative here is incredibly compelling. We’ve got major elements of an unjust criminal justice system, mental illness, abuse, bullying, narcissism and sociopathic tendencies, race, teenage motherhood, and romance. The pages just fly. NOT TO MENTION an unreliable narrator who is clearly not telling us everything. I love stories that aren’t necessarily mysteries (where the characters are trying to solve something) but that the reader has to piece together clues and hints until the real picture unwinds. Gave me memories of Gone Girl and We Were Liars.

Like those two, this also has a twist ending. Unlike those two, this one unfortunately brought the entire thing way down for me. Without going into the specifics so as not to ruin it for you, the last chapter felt like a betrayal of the reader. The author gave us a sharp turn, without giving us the space to accommodate, which left me feeling unseated and disappointed.

Despite the jarring ending, still a worthwhile, disturbing, and quick read for any fans of the genre. 2 stars

 

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Pocket full of suspense

All Fall Down, by Ally Carter (2015)51ccdgnz5rl

Opening line: “‘When I was twelve I broke my leg jumping off the wall between Canada and Germany,’ I say, but the woman across from me doesn’t even blink.”

Okay, so that’s a great opening line, right? If that’s your first take at All Fall Down (having not read anything about it), you might be wondering if this is set in some future world where the landscape has shifted politically, if not geographically. And while that sounds like a book I might want to read, that’s not the case here. Instead, we soon find out that our main character, Grace, spent her summers at the U.S. Embassy in Adria, Italy, where her grandfather is the ambassador. Now, Grace is back in Adria, but this time without any other members of her immediately family. Her father is in the military and her mother died in terrible accident three years ago, or so everyone tells Grace. But Grace was there. She saw the man who shot her mother. And she’s going to stop at nothing to prove it.

The opening line and the dust jacket blurb (“Grace Blakely is absolutely certain about three things: 1. She’s not crazy. 2. Her mother was murdered. 3. Someday she is going to find her killer and make him pay.”) easily give you a sense of what this novel is going to be about: SUSPENSE. And it does that well. I had a sense of what was going on, but I really had to read to the end to figure it all out. And it definitely leaves you with a giant cliffhanger, leaving you ready for the second installment.

I also loved the exotic setting of Embassy Row, having all these teenagers from all over the world gathered in one place, making it feel almost like some sort of international summer camp. I don’t know how realistic it was, but the whole thing felt escapist anyway, so that doesn’t really matter. This one will be an easy sell to the seemingly endless line of girls lately who are asking me for “realistic fiction with some romance and mystery.” (New genre perhaps?)

Fun, enjoyable, actually might read the sequel. 1.5 stars.

Doing the time

Locked Up: A History of the U.S. Prison System, by Laura B. Edge (2009)

Opening line: “In September 1773, twenty-one-year old Levi Ames of Boston, Massachusetts, confessed to being a member of a gang of robbers.”

I am on the constant lookout for engaging, extended informational texts. Not only does the curriculum require it for Common Core, but to get my kids to read full-length non-fiction, it’s gotta be really good. If I was to continue my “opening line” with the rest of this first page of Edge’s history book, you would quickly find the major reason why I don’t think this one would hold up.

After the first paragraph, the short description of Levi Ames end by gallows, Edge jumps to a description of crime. And then back to the 1600s. And so she goes throughout her story. Although the basic structure of her text is chronological, Edge rather skips and hops between ideas and lacks the transitions necessary to tie these together. This can be really problematic when you are trying to convince middle schoolers to read the entire thing.

Perhaps a rare student could use this for some sort of research project. It appears to be good information and well-researched, with a full 22 pages of end matter. It’s an interesting and relevant topic — especially to those 1.5 million children who have at least one parent in prison, as Edge suggests. I can picture this topic as a thoughtful subject for project-based learning. But for pleasure reading? Not so much. I also wish there was a bit more treatment of the state of modern prisons.

Informative, but rather chaotic. 1.5 stars.