100-Character Breakdown: A painful, powerful debut, full of depth, told through the guise of a compelling unreliable narrator.
Genre: Young adult, diverse lit
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books (January 2017)
With a convincing, well-written unreliable narrator and a genuine exploration of pain, Tiffany D. Jackson’s Allegedly is an excellent debut. Mary B. Addison’s past has haunted her all her life: when she was 9, she was found guilty for killing a baby. She was the 9-year-old black girl who allegedly killed a white baby. This completely alters the trajectory of her life. She spends six years in baby jail before ending up in house arrest at an all-girl group home. And then she learns that she’s pregnant, and the state threatens to take her baby. To stop the state from taking her unborn child, she must dig up her past. If she can’t convince her mom to help her and set the record straight, she’ll lose her child.
Mary is flanked by a diverse, well-developed cast. Jackson’s characters are vibrant, all deeply flawed in compelling ways. There’s a lot of pain in Mary’s story and in the stories of the other girls in the group home. From the group sessions with Ms. Veronica to the fights (both violent and verbal) between the girls, we learn a lot about these young women and their perspectives. The group home overall provides a complicated background to Mary’s journey in the foreground. As Mary tries to find answers, Jackson succeeds in making it difficult to discern who is telling the truth and who isn’t. The reader doesn’t know who to trust, and neither does Mary. This only furthered my interest in the novel. It was a quick read simply because I couldn’t wait to find the answers that awaited me at the books end.
Along the way, Mary meets a variety of other characters, and even the minor characters were incredibly well developed. While trying to get her life on track, Mary must jump through hoop after hoop just to take the SAT. It is on this journey that we meet Ms. Claire, one of my favorite characters. Even with such a small role, Jackson builds Ms. Claire into a three-dimensional character. Jackson’s writing makes all these characters vivid, so it’s hard not to empathize with them.
It’s difficult to watch Mary try to move her life in a positive direction only to see new legal barriers at every turn. And it’s heartbreaking to see Mary’s fragmented relationship with her mom. Jackson fills this journey with so many emotional relationships and twists and turns. There are so many important storylines layered within this book, everything from grief and loss to bullying and abuse to complications in the justice system. And thanks to the use of an unreliable narrator and a morally complex story, Allegedly provides a captivating look at right or wrong, especially as perceived from a variety of perspectives. I can’t wait to see what Jackson writes next.