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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Sheinkin strikes again

816maqpda9lMost Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War, by Steve Sheinkin (2015)

Opening line: “They came to California to ruin a man.”

When I read Bomb: The Race to Build — and Steal — the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon a few years ago when it was a Rebecca Caudill nominee, I was a HUGE fan of Sheinkin’s pretty instantly. What might have been a thick, dense history book, turned into a page-turner crime novel, that I just had to keep reading. Which is why I had no problem picking up Most Dangerous.

This one takes a look at a different war than Bomb, and does so with no less depth or intrigue. Starting as a data analyst with the Department of Defense, Daniel Ellsberg initially supports America’s role in the growing hostility in Vietnam. However, after travelling to the warzone, and witnessing firsthand the devastation of the country, the civilians, and the men fighting there, his opinion starts to shift. It is swayed even more when, back in the States where he has access to some very classified documents, he finds out that even more was going on behind the scenes that anyone in the public was aware of. Soon he decides that this 7000 page document known as the Pentagon Papers, in which all these secrets are listed, is not something to be kept behind closed doors. In fact, these papers should be broadcast for everyone to read.

This one took a little while to get into, but once I felt involved, as involved as Daniel Ellsberg, I couldn’t stop. Sheinkin has a knack for bringing history to life, a truly amazing feat for middle schoolers. If only I could get more of them to give it a try.

2 stars