Initial reaction: Long review coming probably sometime tomorrow when I can meditate on my end thoughts on the novel, which are complex and conflicted. This...may not be a book for everyone to read.
This book had me emotionally shaken and vexed on so many levels, that I don't even know where to begin. *sighs* I will say - to the narrative's credit - that it's well written, emotionally raw, and Mary's experiences come across as very true to life experiences for incarcerated minority youth for much of the book (not all of it, but a good portion). Tiffany Jackson gets the emotional intimacy and connection of characterizations for this book spot on. The tension in this book is so palpable that I found myself caught between putting the book down and picking it back up eager to read what happens in Mary's overarching case. It's a dark read and thought provoking in many places. At first I thought that this narrative would be something akin to reading the narrative "Push" by Sapphire, because the tone of the narrative felt like that to start (and interestingly enough, the narrative mentions Mary reading it at one point.) The aforementioned book was a rough read for me on its own but I appreciated it because of the real horrors and story told in that vein. This book doesn't go in that direction, but the emotional/physical abuse and fear that Mary endures in places is rage inducing and makes you feel for the character.
If you're sensing a lingering "but" to those notations, you would be hitting the needlepoint spot on. I sincerely want to pretend that ending (and certain events close to the ending) doesn't exist. While I don't mind having the rug pulled out from under me in an apt mystery/thriller, this didn't feel like that kind of story for much of the narrative. At the very least, one would think at this ending "Wait...there's an emotional mismatch here - that really didn't fit the rest of the tone of the story. Even if there were multiple unreliable characters here (and there are: fair warning without delving into too many spoilers), it doesn't make sense to go that direction because the story already had a compelling story in one tone. It reveals a pretty gruesome but notable reality for an underrepresented population."
At worst? This book does need a TW on several counts: several notations of homophobia (though one could argue that its influenced by the prejudices of the observed characters), body/sexual shaming (see previous notation), rape/complicit accessory rape/statutory rape (oh, I have a soapbox coming on this very subject matter on so. many. levels.), animal cruelty and dismemberment (I had to stop reading for a bit after that scene because I wasn't expecting it), among other things.
So, yeah, complex emotions. :(
My initial rating upon finishing this book was 4 stars, and looks like I'm going to take it down to 3.5 because...MASSIVE caveats. There are brilliant moments in the narrative that really tugged at my heartstrings. I think the essence of Mary's story is true to the brutality that many young people of color experience in incarceration, juvenile pregnancy, power and abuse in the correctional system, power and abuse in personal relationships, gaslighting, among other things. It's true to life on some things, but ultimately not in others, and particularly with the progression up through the ending, this is a mature YA (I question it being YA, but I think teens could still read this and get something out of it) dark horror/thriller.
At first I thought that this was something that abruptly changed for the tone in the ending and I thought "Wait a minute, I wish that the book hadn't gone in that direction, because it was so good establishing what Mary's experiences were and illuminating some tough realities in characters who are like her." But the more I looked back through the story, the more I realized that it actually had foreshadowed this dark and foreboding tone; every single character in this narrative is one you can't trust on the surface because of the ultimate truths that are revealed about them as the narrative presses forward. It's one big nightmare that while I don't always agree with how it used elements to its execution, it also provides a space where I'm thinking about the narrative complexities and points long after I put the book down.
The baseline for this story has Mary as a 15/16 year old young black woman convicted in a juvenile home for troubled youth up until the age of 19. She's accused of killing a white infant which has a ton of media coverage and accounts close to Mary's case (which are brilliantly provided in snippets throughout the text, and it gives the narrative an authentic and complex feel). She's struggling to try to make a better life for herself, trying to get the opportunity to take the SAT, getting an education, confronting what seems to be PTSD surrounding details of the case that she's shut out because she doesn't feel like she has a voice or that people will believe her about what *actually* happened. Things become more complicated when Mary realizes that she's pregnant and the system will take away her unborn child if she doesn't say/do something. Hence begins the ball rolling as Mary struggles through hostile and demeaning/neglectful oversight, stern judgment from superiors and peers, a complete lack of support from her mother (her mother's blind religious hypocrisy and self-indulgence had me seeing red through the entire narrative, I thought in my mind "I've read/known about people who have done this to their children, and I can't deal because they are freaking horrible.") among other things to essentially get out of this entire ordeal. It creates sympathy for Mary's situation while holding back pieces of the actual case, revealing them in snippets as the story progresses.
Mary's baby father, Ted, is 18/19, at first appears supportive of Mary's efforts to get out of the system and be with her for the sake of being with her. Note I emphasize "appears", because once the truth about Ted's past actions comes across, it's...messed up. It's messed up enough that his relationship with her was statutory rape to begin with, but I was legit raging and had to put the book down for a time because of what's revealed about him in further spells. MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD.
No one can tell me to have sympathy for a guy incarcerated because he was complicit in holding down a young woman by her arms to be raped several times. Regardless if he was scared, regardless whether he "let her go", even if he didn't rape her himself, it's clear he was in denial about doing anything wrong and making the excuse he was "young" when it happened. Mary sees the hypocrisy in this and is sickened by it in spells, but exhibits denial about it in others - which angered me. Further reveals of Ted's character showcase him getting extra money by pocketing part of the money that a woman named Letitcia gets from her relationships and him bumming off from others relationships - which Mary uncovers going to visit him. I'm legit horrified by this (as is Mary). Mary attempts to get away from him even on that measure, but then goes back to being in denial about his actions/demeanor in spells. One could probably argue that Mary's demeanor was in constant denial about many, many things because the emotional weight of all that she endures, but this was something that messed me up reading this story.
So ultimately speaking, Ted can screw right off as far as I'm concerned. The horrifying part of this book in many notations is that it feels so vivid and realistic that I could actually see it happening from Mary's viewpoint, particularly with the way she wrestles with her reality and relationships more often times than not. I can see it even it there are details which aren't as ironed out as smoothly as they could've been. I think that's one of the things that sucked me into the story: that I believed it was Mary's experience and her voice is attuned to all the people she's surrounded by, fatal flaws and all. She's a compelling narrator, and I definitely felt for her and for many of the characters in the narrative. Hence when I finished "Allegedly", I felt like I could give it credit for the strong assertions, strong protagonist, and illumination of many different measures in a realistic way.
But at the same time, I feel like that even with knowing the narrative foreshadowed these revelations with the characters and case in itself, the transition and translation of that wasn't as strong as it should've been. So I've asked myself "Is this a 4 star read, is this a 3 star read? I'm going back and forth about it because as much as I liked the emotional resonance in it, I didn't like elements within it and how they were used."
So in the end, it's a strong 3.5 star read for me, and I'd encourage others to read this for the strong themes and character resonance, but be warned that the subject matters are mature and triggering.
Overall score: 3.5/5 stars.