From Goodreads: Mary B. Addison killed a baby.
Allegedly. She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: A white baby had died while under the care of a churchgoing black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it? She wouldn’t say.
Mary survived six years in baby jail before being dumped in a group home. The house isn’t really “home”—no place where you fear for your life can be considered a home. Home is Ted, who she meets on assignment at a nursing home.
There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted—and their unborn child—to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary must find the voice to fight her past. And her fate lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her Momma. No one knows the real Momma. But who really knows the real Mary?
Mary has spent the past six years serving time for a crime she never actually admitted to. Time spent mostly in isolation in adult prison– as a nine-year old– for a crime to severe for juvie, but a child far too young to serve with adults. Released to a group home when she is 15, Mary must live as a ward of the state until her 18th birthday. Just before she turns 16, she realizes she is pregnant. But the state will never let a “baby-killer” keep a baby. In order to protect her growing child and the family she dreams of, Mary will finally have to tell the truth of what happened that night– the night Baby Alyssa died. It’s a secret she’s been keeping for years.
I read this book in less than a day. I started it on a break at work, then picked it back up when I got home. And never put it back down. I had to know the truth of what happened. Who really killed Baby Alyssa and how. And why. I couldn’t stop until I had all the answers.
Throughout the book, you’re given snippets of the unfolding story of that night through interviews, police reports, newspaper and magazine articles, and excerpts from the numerous books written about the incident. Each one reveals another little piece of the puzzle, although they never quite seem to fit together perfectly, always leaving you guessing about what really happened.
But while the mystery of the crime is the underlying current of the novel, there’s so much more to it. It’s a story of Mary, and how despite her circumstances and the horror that she has been through in her short life, she is determined to overcome her past and create a future for herself. She has spent part of her childhood and adolescence in prison instead of school, but that hasn’t stopped her from dreaming of going to college. She has her sights set on taking the SAT and achieving a high enough score to earn a scholarship. While she is studying for the test, she is fighting to keep her unborn child– her only link to Ted, the only person she feels she can trust in the world. Even though there were many who called for her death because of the crime they say she committed, there are still others who will overlook the past she has tried to hide as well as help her rewrite it in order to allow her to achieve her dreams and change her life.
Jackson does an incredible job at giving each character a unique voice, right down to their accents. I could hear them talking in my head, effortlessly alternating between characters in a dialogue. The most fascinating voice is Mary. She’s 15, turning 16, incredibly smart, but still has a bit of childlike innocence to her. She doesn’t even know how to turn on the computer in their group home. Which I suppose is what happens when you spend six of your very formative years in jail with very little interaction with others. It’s hard to fully mature when your life is basically halted at 9 years old.
She also subtly shows how the tabloid sensationalism of the media surrounding the case influences the perception of those involved. Countless articles have been written about the case and its trial. These articles have given rise to protests and public outcry against Mary, calling for the strictest sentencing in the case. Entire books have been written on the psychology of Mary as a child killer. We’ve seen this kind of fascination in real life as well. There’s an entire genre of True Crime books. We’re obsessed with Netflix documentaries and podcasts about murderers. But as we have seen time and time again in our current society, the portrayal of an incident within the media and how the world perceives it and those involved is drastically magnified when the victim and the suspect are of different races. Would the protests outside the courthouse and calls for the death penalty for a 9 year old girl have been different if Mary and her mother were white and Alyssa had been black? Or if they had all been the same race? Jackson doesn’t delve too deeply into this discussion within the book, but it’s something to think about.
In the end, all the puzzle pieces align and we finally know the truth of what happened that night. And the truth will shock you to the core.
Because of violence, adult themes, sex, and language, I’d recommend this for upper class high school and beyond.
Learn more about Tiffany D. Jackson