Author: Tiffany D. Jackson
Genre: YA Thrillers
Number of Pages: 390
WARNING: THIS BOOK REVIEW CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.
I finished this almost 400-page book in two days. That’s how invested I was in this book. It had it’s share of flaws, but mostly it was a harrowing story told primarily told through the eyes of one really unreliable narrator. I really enjoy books with unreliable narrators, and I felt thoroughly shocked by the end of this novel. Mary B. Addison is a character who will stay with me for a long time.
When the story begins, Mary is in a halfway house after years of incarceration. Why? Well, when she was eight, Mary was accused of killing Alicia, an infant who her mom was babysitting. Mary is Black and Alicia was white, and the media ate it up, calling Mary evil and a monster and ensuring that she had to spend large portions of time in solitary so she wouldn’t be torn limb from limb by other offenders who were disgusted by her crime.
For a large portion of the book the reader is left questioning whether Mary really killed Alicia, or whether her mentally unstable mother committed the crime and then threw her daughter under the bus. Mary is doing community service in a nursing home when she meets Ted, another offender several years older than her, and they start seeing each other. Ted gets Mary pregnant and Mary wants to keep the baby, but the people in charge make it clear that there’s no way in hell they’d let a baby-killer raise a child.
Mary decides to prove her innocence, but the adults warn her not to dig up the past. The ending took me by surprise and made me question everything I had read from Mary’s perspective, challenging the role of her mother as the monster you believed her to be. All this time I thought Mary was a victim (and I guess in some ways, she was) and the author did a good job of setting that narrative up and then pulling the rug from under you at the last minute.
I guess I should have guessed Mary’s true nature when she found out Ted had held a drunk girl’s arms down to let his friends gang-rape her and seemed willing to overlook it, but I thought she was just making excuses for him because she had literally no one else. I liked the use of excerpts about Mary’s crime from books and articles, it kind of reminded me of Carrie by Stephen King.
I did feel like the ending somewhat undermined some of the social justice themes about race and the treatment of young offenders, but I also liked that it wasn’t what you’d expect and completely threw you off. It was hard to reconcile the calm, ‘normal’ Mary with the babbling lunatic at the end, thought. She seemed like a different character and a little bit forced, going from 1 to 100 in the last few pages.
The writing wasn’t perfect and sometimes fell into young adult tropes, but overall, that didn’t matter too much because of how compelling the storyline was. Honestly, I was holding off on reading this book because it was long, but I’m really glad I finally read it. This made me want to read all of Tiffany D. Jackson’s books and it’s a good pick for older teens looking for a breathlessly paced and dark page-turner.