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 church-going 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?
In this gritty and haunting debut, Tiffany D. Jackson explores the grey areas in our understanding of justice, family, and truth, and acknowledges the light and darkness alive in all of us.
“What does it mean when you love and hate someone at the same time?” I ask.
He laughs. “It means they family.”
“Well, people tend not to think clearly when a black girl is suspected of killing a little white girl,” Ms. Cora says, crossing her arms.
Ok I’m being a bit passive aggressive in my own way in this one so it’ll be a bit long (but hopefully not so rambley) so buckle up. First, I do want to say this book needs quite a few Trigger and/or Content Warnings, so I’ll just list them…
- Fat phobia
- LGBT+ phobia
- Survival sex
- Child abuse
- Attempted child sexual assault
- Group rape
- Ableism re: mental illness, especially intersections of mental illness and parenthood
- Infant death
Because Allegedly is written in first person, the characters were developed through the view of the main character, Mary Addison. With this understanding in mind while I read, I was able to clearly imagine interacting with each of them because of how well they were developed. I also found myself strongly disliking certain characters because of how Mary sees them and how they treat her. It’s obvious throughout the book that Mary does not see people in grayscale, but merely as good and bad. They can flop back and forth between the two, but she never sees them as capable of being both good and bad at the same time. This overwhelms and confuses her when confronted with people like her mother who she can’t help but love even though she sees her as “bad.”
The world of the story is New York City and focuses mainly in Brooklyn. Personally, I have never been to NYC (a point I’ve always found odd because I’m originally from upstate) but the descriptions given were enough to allow me to fill in the blanks and imagine myself in the world Mary lives in relatively easily. Again, because this is first person, I was able to absorb how Mary sees her surroundings. The world building fit perfectly with that and was seamlessly added into the story.
Part of the building of any world, as many a writer and reader will tell you, is the language used by its inhabitants. If the language isn’t believable, everything else in the world being built is thrown askew and made less believable. This is what makes the combination of English and AAVE throughout Allegedly appropriate and necessary. It might be hard to understand for those who aren’t speakers of AAVE but anyone who’s been in a major city in the United States in the past 30 years has likely heard at least one conversation using AAVE. Personally, I can understand the dialect of AAVE that’s spoken in my city and recognize that in Brooklyn, New York there is a slightly different dialect spoken. I can still understand it but it takes me a little longer to process. Let me also say now that I don’t speak AAVE outside of conversing with the people I know who only understand AAVE because it’s simply not in my lane. However, AAVE is a full fledged language with its own sentence structure and grammar rules. There are plenty of references regarding AAVE on the internet, but the one I’ve found most helpful so far in explaining its origins and use is on the Language Jones website. Please feel free to research that because lots of people in the real world actually speak the way they do in the book.
I thought the story flowed really well, considering the jarring moments including the aforementioned triggering content. The articles, book exerpts, and interview transcripts used throughout the book were such a creative way of expanding the view of the big picture behind the story without constantly going into full on flashbacks or spoiling the ending of the story. I love how information is given a little at a time because most of the story seems to be directed by Mary and the way she feels about something that’s been said or something that’s happened.
That being said, yes there was quite a bit of stomach churning material. However, this adds to the overall story. For example, Mary is forced to clean a disgusting bathroom in one part by the much hated woman running the group home. The things she’s cleaning are described in intricate detail based on Mary’s experience of them. While this is amazingly nauseating and I had to put my snack down for a few minutes while reading it, this efficiently adds context to her hatred of Ms. Stein as well as reiterating how sensitive her pregnant stomach is to horrible sights and smells. So, yes, while these scenes are unpleasant, they do add to the plot and that makes them necessary.
I noticed that all of the characters are first described by skin color and potential culture of origin, followed by any personal characteristics and personality traits. I feel like it’s important to touch on this for two reasons: 1) The descriptors force the reader out of the default assumption that the character is white; and, more importantly, 2) It’s a novel about racism, which brings race to the forefront by its very nature. Because of these two things alone, it’s necessary and should be expected that everyone be described first by skin color and culture of origin and then by whatever character traits are observed.
Also, because Allegedly is a book about racism and the effects of racism, there are a few slurs used in the storytelling. These slurs are not used by the narrator, but during dialogue, and are a part of the culture surrounding this particular situation. They add to the story, but they can be harmful and triggering so if you’re going to read this book just be aware there are slurs in it. Having lived in a comparable area, I can tell you that, unfortunately, yes. That is how people really talk to and about other people.
The ending…. Where to begin. I didn’t see it coming because I was focusing on an entirely different aspect of the story. The twist totally caught me by surprise. It’s the type of ending that jams any remaining puzzle pieces into place. I refuse to put spoilers into my review so I’ll just say the end of Allegedly answered every question I had and a few I didn’t know to ask.
While I can admit this book is problematic because of the multiple Trigger and Content Warnings listed above, I also really enjoyed the story. A few of those Content Warnings could apply to me and I found them quite troubling, especially the ableism regarding mental illness, especially where it intersects with parenthood. This is an intersection I live in and am constantly criticized for.
Throughout the book, there are references to Mary’s Momma having “a day.” The first time I saw this printed, I literally shuddered but still remained hopeful it would be the only time it’s referenced. It wasn’t. In fact, it was an ongoing theme throughout the story. It’s strongly implied that, without medication, mental illness controls those affected by it to the point of compromising their ability to safely parent their own or others’ children. I can not begin to tell you how harmful this was to me as an unmedicated sufferer of bipolar disorder and anxiety and a single mother.
That being said, I don’t think the harmful nature of this book was intended by the author at all. I knew that because Allegedly is about racism in the world as well as the judicial system and the effect it can have on youths stuck within that system, there would be problematic content in the story but I honestly assumed it would be contained to racism with possible flags for abuse. I was not expecting what I got at all. I really enjoyed that the end was a huge twist, even though it was a problematic one. I’ll probably still read more of Tiffany D. Jackson’s work when she publishes again but I can’t bring myself to recommend this book to others and that’s horribly disappointing to me.
Overall, I rate Allegedly 2 out of 5 bookworms.
Don’t just take my word for it. Order a copy of Allegedly and enjoy it for yourself! A few places you can go to get your hands on a copy are:
- Amazon US
- Amazon UK (when it’s released in the UK on 23 February 2017)
- Books-A-Million (US)
- Barnes and Noble (US)
- Waterstones (UK) (when it’s released in the UK on 23 February 2017)
- Book Depository (when it’s released in the UK on 23 February 2017)
- your local bookstore or local library
For more about Tiffany D. Jackson and her work, visit her website.
I read this book with the Diversely Booked Book Club. Join is on Twitter for the end of the month book discussion!
Have you read Allegedly? What did you think of it?