She’s a murderer, allegedly

Youth incarceration and racism make Tiffany D. Jackson’s debut novel a tough but worthwhile read.

Courtesy of Tiffany D. Jackson

Ann Marie Leimbach, Variety Editor

“Allegedly”, the 2017 novel by writer and filmmaker Tiffany D. Jackson, focuses on Mary B. Addison, a recently paroled black teen. At nine years old, Mary was convicted of killing Alyssa, a three-month-old white baby. Now, six years later, she’s out on parole and lives in a group home where she fears for her life every day. Upon discovering that she is pregnant, Mary has to find a way to clear her name and keep her baby. But the question remains, who really killed Alyssa?

Mary is an unreliable and, at times, frustrating narrator. She spent her childhood being physically and emotionally abused by her mother, and since then every adult in her life has failed to protect her. Her perspective is colored by trauma, and her memories are sparse. An extremely intelligent teen, Mary comes off trustworthy and kind while also seeming a little unhinged. It is an incredibly distinctive and well-written voice. 

Interspersed with interviews, notes and books from the case, Mary’s story is captivating. Filled with pain and sadness, “Allegedly” is intensely moving and terrifying.  There is something magical about Jackson’s writing that pushes you forward and keeps you glued to the book no matter how hard it gets. 

Courtesy of Tiffany D. Jackson
Tiffany D. Jackson
Tiffany D. Jackson is a critically acclaimed author of YA novels. Her forthcoming novel, ‘Let Me Hear a Rhyme,’ releases May 21st, 2019.

In “Allegedly”, Jackson reveals the stereotypes and narratives surrounding incarcerated black youth, and the oppressive consequences these have. From the moment Mary was arrested, the police and media alike pushed the narrative of a “crazy” black child killing an innocent white infant in cold blood. With protests outside courthouses calling for the death-penalty, Mary was guilty in the eyes of the public before a formal decision was ever made. 

As it is pointed out in the book, “Doesn’t matter what you say about racial equality, you’ve never seen white families storming the steps of city hall demanding justice for a little black baby. They’re pushing for the death penalty and don’t even realize executing this little girl is no different than murdering that baby.”

While the character of Mary is impeccably crafted, most of the other characters fall a bit flat in comparison. Everyone Mary meets, especially the other girls in her group home, is a one-dimensional stereotype. Everyone is either a violent and evil ‘animal’ or a pathetic weakling and the book makes no effort to show us any other side to them.

Without giving too much away, the last few pages of the book did not measure up to the ones that came before it. It was such a raw and emotional story, the ending was a confusing disappointment that was more disheartening than it was thought-provoking.

Even with its flaws, “Allegedly” was an incredible novel. In 2017 it was nominated for an NAACP image award in the category of Outstanding Literary Work.  Though some moments were difficult to get through, it was a haunting and realistic look into the lives that many young people in the United States are already living.