Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Book Review of June by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

When I selected June by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore free from Blogging For Books for the purposes of this review, choices were limited, and I felt very meh about all the options, including this one. If you read my blog on a regular basis, you know I'm a varied reader across several genres and styles, so I thought my openness would serve me well here. Unfortunately, despite the attractive font (Have I told you guys how much I'm into typography?) and generally charming vintage-feeling cover design, the book didn't hold any deeper interest for me once I opened it.

My struggle with getting into the book began with the first sentence, which made it apparent that the house, Two Oaks, a rambling, ramshackle estate which was once grand and built in nowheresville, Ohio. Despite the house being described in detail (inordinate detail, seemingly never-ending detail), I never got the impression, as a reader, that the house had an actual personality, besides being large and fancy and in a state of disrepair. It felt like Beverly-Whittemore was desperately trying for the narrative voice style like at the beginning of Sabrina (you know: the outdoor tennis courts and the indoor tennis courts) or that of Midnight In The Garden of Good And Evil with the old-fashioned (and old moneyed) small town charm and failing miserably. Not only was that disappointing, but it left me without a compelling "in" as a reader. There are tons of large old houses that haven't been well cared for in the world. Why should I invest my time reading about this one? I still don't know.

On top of that, the more annoying part of June is that Beverly-Whittemore seems to think she's charming, or perhaps someone told her that at some point. She seems to think she's being clever when she names a character June and then talks about the character and the month of June in the same sentence when the narrative doesn't require it (nope--just annoying and slows my reading down). It's like she aimed for somewhere twixt twee and glamorous. Unfortunately for her, she landed on basic. Her sentences feel like they are never going to end, and they also feel like they aren't really adding much information or description or even mood to the book. She wants so desperately to be literary, but most of her prose is as overwrought as the railings of Two Oaks I'm sure you could spend several collected pages reading about if you really wanted to. Unless this sounds appealing to you, I really can't recommend June by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Book Review of Coming Clean: A Memoir by Kimberly Rae Miller

After reading Gwendolyn Knapp's supremely unsatisfying hoarding-related memoir (check out yesterday's review), I wanted to know if there were any books out there that tackled the same topic with more aplomb, so I put a copy of Coming Clean: A Memoir by Kimberly Rae Miller on hold at the library. Contrary to what the super disappointing cover design led me to believe (and, ugh, when I saw it, I was not expecting much), it was a night-and-day difference!

As I mentioned in the previous review of a memoir dealing with hoarding, I'm the kid of hoarders. My Dad is deceased, and my Mom is currently working to reform her hoarding ways, so, just as I was supremely disappointed in the carelessness and superficiality dripping from After A While You Just Get Used To It, I related deeply to the seriousness, frustration, and pain emanating from Coming Clean. Miller truly bared herself and her painful childhood experiences, growing up the daughter of hoarders in a time before there was a TV show, a cultural touchstone, a functional psychological diagnosis, or even a word for such behavior. In Coming Clean, Miller didn't attempt to offer up her parents' foibles and obvious psychological problems and their resultant hoarding and quirks for laughs, but instead gave a realistically detailed account of what it was like to grow up marooned on an island of filth. For those who have been there, Miller is clearly a comrade-in-arms. For those who haven't, just know that she provided an accurate depiction: that really is what it's like.

Coming Clean deals with much heavier issues than being unable to recycle some old newspapers. Miller's parents couldn't have been more loving, but with her dad's mental illness and her mom's severe back problems, they were inept at providing a clean, safe environment for their beloved daughter, or their pets. Even after growing up and physically escaping her parents' prison of stuff (one of Miller's main reasons for wanting to go away to college), she suffered anxiety, nightmares, and other symptoms of PTSD from her experiences living in their mess, as well as physical symptoms (infections, asthma, and other breathing problems) brought on by the clutter and germs. Miller also eloquently discusses the isolation she and her parents experienced because of their hoarding--from society, their family and friends, and from each other. Ultimately, Coming Clean is the story of a daughter who is at her wit's end with her parents' hoarding, but who loves them despite the fact that they can't let go of their useless collections of junk. It is a sad story. It is a true story. It is a story very much worth reading. Highly recommended.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Book Review of After A While You Just Get Used To It: A Tale of Family Clutter by Gwendolyn Knapp

I entered a contest for a free copy of this book because I read a blurb about it and saw the cover and I knew I had to read it! Why? Well, my Mom is in the process of becoming a reformed hoarder... and she considers squirrels her mortal enemies. So, this is one of those books I wanted to read and then share with her. I was thrilled when it arrived in the mail, as I assumed I'd enjoy it immensely and be excited to see her reaction. I mean, the cover is just hilarious even by itself, right?

I love the way the squirrel could both symbolize a hoarder (hoarding nuts), but the squirrel figurine could also be clutter in and of itself, and it is fun and quirky. Genius!

...if only the book followed suit.

In all fairness to this book, maybe Gwendolyn Knapp's sense of humor just doesn't match up with my own, because I've seen a couple of different reviews compare it to David Sedaris or Jenny Lawson, both authors of books I thought I'd like, books I wanted to like, but books I actually loathed. So, if you enjoy those other authors and their particular off-beat brand of humor, maybe this book is the nut you should be storing for winter. Otherwise, not so much.

The main problem I had with this book is that it lacked balance; I was hoping that, in addition to narrating hilarious scenes of the clutter acting as a hostile environment or even personified as an antagonist in and of itself, Knapp would also analyze the clutter. Did her family's collection of useless junk signify mental confusion? ...a worthless (and somewhat rusty) security blanket? ...the desire for material wealth? A book like this would have to walk the fine line between theatre of the absurd-style humor and poignant, evocative emotion. On those counts, it completely failed. Instead, Knapp seemed to be under the mistaken impression that barely connected reminiscences whose only shared commonality was clutter as their backdrop somehow gelled into a larger plot or character arc. They did not.

Also, because Knapp didn't portray herself as an empathetic protagonist with a clearly defined mission on the brain, I couldn't root for her. Readers will likely be left with no sense of who she is, or ability to tell what it is she wants. How can I be on her side if I don't even know where it is when buried under all of the superfluous stuff? As a reader, I feel as though Knapp invited me over to her family's overstuffed home, beckoned me to follow her thorough the labyrinth of a living room, maze of a master bedroom and dump of a den only to present me with the back door, fling it open, shrug, and say, "Bye! Thanks for coming over!" waving as the dented screen door slams behind me, the utterly bewildered reader.

What is the point of this book? I couldn't tell. I wish I hadn't wasted my time reading it, and I'm surely not going to waste my Mom's by giving it to her. Well, that, and I wouldn't want her to add it to the top of yet another growing mountain of pointless possessions because, contrary to what Knapp's title may assert, I haven't yet gotten used to it, and her assertion that such a thing is possible leads me to believe that her family's "hoarding" isn't the real deal, after all.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Book Review of Science Comics: Flying Machines: How the Wright Brothers Soared by Alison Wilgus and Molly Brooks

The latest installment of Science Comics, a series of non-fiction graphic novels catering to an MG reading level and audience, is Flying Machines: How the Wright Brothers Soared by Alison Wilgus and Molly Brooks. If you aren't familiar with the Science Comic series from :01, each volume features a full, information-packed narrative explanation of the titular concept, which has been reviewed by an expert in the field. After the guided tour, which reminded me of a more in-depth lesson from Miss Frizzle herself (win!), and is tailored to readers ages nine and up, the book also includes a section of notes and a bibliography for readers whose interest hasn't been quelled by just this one volume and who would like to learn more about the topic at hand.

In this volume, author Alison Wilgus introduces readers to a historical figure they may never have heard of: Orville and Wilbur Wright's younger sister Katharine. Just like many little siblings, Katharine took a great interest in the exciting project her big brothers were involved with, and was their biggest champion along the way. She was an interesting choice to serve as a narrator for the story, because many readers of Flying Machines have no doubt either been the little sibling who watched from the sidelines, or had such a brother or sister. Also, it is surprising to note that she was so integral to the Wright brothers' development of their flying machine, but that, without having read this book, I never would've heard of her. Katharine really humanized the narrative, adding in colorful commentary and emotion, and keeping Flying Machines from being simply a list of historical dates and facts. It was an effective storytelling choice, for sure!  One of my favorite parts of the book was the mini biography of Katharine Wright included near the end.

I also appreciated that Flying Machines incorporated a depiction of the race to invent a flying machine. Many kids (including me) probably grew up with the belief that the Wright brothers were the only ones working on such an invention, so I think it is important to note that, actually, several other parties were toying with similar ideas at the time. It was fun to see how they fed off of each other's concepts, and how one person's obstacles might lead to another inventor's breakthrough.

Molly Brooks' illustrations really won the day. Her drawings of planes (and other mechanisms) in flight really captured the motion of each one, so they came alive from the page. Reading Flying Machines was kind of like watching a Miyazaki film, due to her lively and imaginative drawings. I also loved the colors she selected for the settings and clothing of her characters--the warm brown and gold tones and cool blues really added to the story and set the time period in my mind. Brooks' depictions of Orville and Wilbur made them stand out in my imagination, whereas when I'd read about them previously, the brothers were somewhat interchangeable. Her characterization of Katharine was endearing and kept me interested even in parts of the story where the narrative lagged where it was held down a bit by lots of technical detail.

Coming out on May 23rd, teachers, parents, and aviation fans alike will be thrilled by this detailed, educational graphic novel history of the origins of heavier-than-air flying machines. You can preorder it now. If that isn't enough, previous titles in the series cover coral reefs, dinosaurs, volcanoes, and bats. (I really wish I'd gotten my hands on the one about dinosaurs, myself, as anyone who knows me knows my love of dinos is deep and profound!) I can really see these books being useful for science teachers or homeschool parents to build lesson plans (especially with the bibliography, glossary, and notes inclusions at the end of the texts), or as wonderful gifts for curious scientifically-minded young readers to learn independently, because of the lively dialogue and colorful illustrations. But, even as someone who isn't particularly interested in flight, and who read the book as an adult, the strong partnership of Wilgus' writing and Brooks' illustrations kept me hooked until the very last page. Highly recommended!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Book Review of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline is like a post-apocalyptic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but with much of the action taking place inside an online simulated reality. No, it isn't as good as it sounds. is better. The contents of the book more than make up for any disappointment the cover design might provoke, which was significant, on my end.

I've labeled this book simply as "fiction," because to try and define its genre is to dismiss many of the ingredients that make it so original (especially for a project with a definite purpose of paying loving tribute to fandoms close to the author's heart). It feels like dozens of things I've loved, the best parts of which have all been reassembled to create something simultaneously charming and baffling.

Suffice it to say, the protagonist is empathetic and the side characters are well-developed and endearing. The real-world 2044 setting is a terrifyingly bleak, but probably downplayed, look at what our planet will be like if we don't get a handle on this whole global warming thing. And the Inception-like settings within that world--the battleground on which Wade and countless others fight their way through obstacles and reason their way through puzzles--are diverse, detailed, and derivative in the best way possible. Chances are, if you have loved videogames, songs, or movies from the '80s, reading Ready Player One will give you the distinct pleasure of getting to watch Wade Watts navigate his way through some of them as part of his epic quest.

*Spoiler alert.* The thing I loved most about this book is actually its biggest surprise, so if you haven't read it and you like surprises, stop reading now! It is the true identity of the character Aech. If you read like a detective (like I do), you'll realize that Wade's assumptions that Aech is a straight male like himself just don't jive. From there on, you'll spend their dialogue picking up on little clues here and there and you will put together that Wade is surely wrong. I, for example, thought I had surely "deduced" that Aech was a gay male who had feelings for Wade. Um, oops. Nope! Surprise: Aech is actually a Black lesbian female, who has chosen (with some guidance from her mother) to assume a white male identity online after her mom's own personal experiences showed her firsthand that posing as such would get Aech more opportunities and respect. (Sound familiar? ...and some people say Sci Fi isn't relevant to real life. Oh, please.) Cline saves the big reveal for Aech's offscreen identity until the perfect time in the narrative, when readers are so stressed out about how everything else will turn out that they aren't even recalling all of the little suspicions they've been toying with throughout the narrative. This is done perfectly, and it was the most satisfying aspect of the story for me, because it really put a hilariously lovable character's face on one light-handed tale of discrimination. In a modern society where Black females (and anyone else of a visible minority or Diverse identity) doesn't always have the option to pose as a white male, this should be a powerful takeaway for readers who haven't personally confronted the harsh truth of discrimination.

Ready Player One is a love letter to geekdom, and anyone who ascribes to that label will want to read it, and also make note of the movie (based upon the book) which is slated for release later this year.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Book Review of Spill Zone by Scott Westerfeld and Alex Puvilland

Spill Zone is the first in a new series of graphic novels from :01 written by Scott Westerfield and illustrated by Alex Puvilland. They tell the story of sisters Addison and Lexa, who live in Poughkeepsie, New York three years after an event known only as "the spill," which changed things forever and unleashed unnamed and unnatural creatures within their hometown, which is now quarantined from the rest of the world. Older sister Addison enters the forbidden Spill Zone on her bike whenever possible to capture the resultant horrors on film and sell her photographs to support herself and her sister. Younger sister Lexa appears to suffer from PTSD and selective mutism due to the trauma of having witnessed the spill. Though the cover captures how badass Addison looks on her bike, camera at the ready, I feel the monster in the background is a colossal fail. (Those shown within the book are far more terrifying, and this guy on the cover is a joke by comparison.)

Aspects I enjoyed of the writing within Spill Zone are the relationship between the two sisters, how simultaneously empathetic and mysterious Lexa's character is, and how well Westerfield depicted Addison's toughness and yet set up her younger sister to be her soft spot. I also love the trope when a character routinely enters a dangerous situation and sets rules for him or herself at the beginning of a story because, as a reader, I know that the second that experienced character breaks his or her own rules is the second shit gets real, and Spill Zone is no exception!

Puvilland did something I haven't seen used effectively in graphic novels much before: he imbued the scenes within the spill zone itself with beautiful pastel colors and some bright neon tones, and illustrated those taking place outside the zone (in Addison and Lexa's home, for instance) with dark, muted, shadowy colors). In addition to showing a powerful visual contrast between the two settings and moods, this unorthodox choice also set my teeth on edge when Addison was inside the spill zone with her camera. Somehow, the bright, pretty colors in such a ghastly setting made it feel more wrong and haunted, and I found myself holding my breath until she exited, even if she encountered nothing beyond a few off-kilter rats because of the hues Puvilland used. They turned my senses to overdrive and told me to pay extra attention. Conversely, the bruise-like palette he selected for the outside-the-zone scenes felt relaxing and almost comforting by comparison--not an association a reader would typically make with maroons, greens, yellows, and grays.

However, there was one storytelling choice which played out both visually and in the narrative that aggressively did not work for me, and that's what they did with Vespertine, Lexa's possessed-looking Raggedy Anne-style doll, pictured on the cover. *Spoiler alert.* From what I understand after reading Volume 1, Addison takes Vespertine into the spill zone each time she goes at Lexa's behest, and that "recharges" the doll, who then talks, which is seemingly only able to be heard by Lexa. Vespertine's dialogue is displayed in jaggedy white text on a black background, which is extremely difficult to read at times (this added a high level of frustration to my reading experience). Also, Vespertine has a huge attitude problem, and seems to hate Addison for no discernable reason, but Lexa seems to think sending Vespertine along with Addison into the spill zone on her photo-taking trips protects her older sister somehow. This was confusing: am I supposed to think Lexa doesn't understand Vespertine seems to have it out for Addison, or am I supposed to wonder if Lexa actually has it out for Addison, as well? Either way, it did less to build intrigue than it did to mount confusion, and I felt like that was bred out of lazy writing with this aspect of the story. Also, the possessed doll trope is tired and has been done to death, so if it is going to feel new and different, it should be done better, not just be presented in a more confusing way. Confusion does not equal creepy, it equals frustrating.

Ultimately, I'd recommend Spill Zone to readers who were fans of Dark Angel, because, as I read scenes of Addison tooling around on her bike, deftly navigating a post-apocalyptic city, that's what I was reminded of. I'd also suggest it for those readers who enjoy stories of older siblings taking care of younger ones in tough times, and for people who can't get enough of nuclear accident-type narratives (like Chernobyl) and their Sci Fi counterparts. As we don't know at the conclusion of Volume 1 exactly what has caused the spill, I can't be more specific about that last category. I wouldn't recommend it for people who like possessed doll stories, because I think that entire thread of the plot was the weakest part of the whole book. For graphic novel fans who are looking for strong artwork and beautiful colors with interesting choices that really support powerful storytelling, Spill Zone is highly recommended. I'm excited to see where this series goes with its continuation in Volume 2. Volume 1 comes out May 2nd, but you can preorder it now.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Book Review of You're Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner

You're Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner has been on my TBR ever since Eric Smith recommended it on Twitter. The premise (a Deaf graffiti artist is kicked out of school for covering up a slur about her best friend with graffiti) sounded intriguing, and I eagerly awaited my turn to read it on the library hold list. With an MC, Julia, who was Deaf, Indian, and a kid with two moms, I was expecting a unique character, unlike any other I'd encountered in YA previously. I thought the descriptions of street art would be awesome, and, if any was actually included in the book, I anticipated losing many minutes of precious reading time staring at the amazing art instead. I figured the cover design I liked of Julia tagging the book's title and the author's name while standing on a milk crate in her favorite yellow Docs was only the beginning of the great art and one-of-a-kind character You're Welcome, Universe the book might have in store.

Unfortunately, on the unique character front, it didn't feel like Gardner came up with Julia's character at all. Instead, it seems like she's as much a Switched At Birth fan as I am, and she mashed Bay's street art loving character with a penchant for trouble and breaking the law with Daphne's Deaf character who has a close but contentious relationship with her mom. I realized this in the first few chapters, and it significantly took away from my enjoyment of the book. You're Welcome, Universe had a good plot, and some of the other characters were well-written, but with an MC that feels like it was ripped off from a Free Form show, it isn't half the book I thought it was going to be.

...and then, there's the street art problem. See, the main plot of the book is that Julia starts throwing up street art, which is her main passion, and someone else starts changing it and adding to it. Julia sees this as an insult, and spends the rest of the book trying to figure out who the paint-handed culprit might be and why they have it in for her. Since street art appears to be Julia's only hobby, the thing she spends all her time and money on, and what keeps getting her into trouble, one would think she's good at it because it's what she invests all of her resources into, but the art included in the book that is supposed to be Julia's is actually cringeworthy in that it is so bad. When I saw it, I had two thoughts. 1) I could probably do that, and my stick figures look diseased. 2) Whomever is tampering with her art is actually doing it a favor--they're way more talented than she is. So, it's kind of hard to sympathize with a protagonist who is laughably bad at the one thing she cares about, but seems to think she's pretty good at it.

All in all, You're Welcome, Universe was a big letdown for me. Maybe it was overhyped. Maybe I expected it to be way more amazing than it could've ever been. I don't know. But no amount of compelling side characters could distract me from the recycled Frankenstein of an MC cobbled together from two other characters from a TV show and the lousy street art she made. I really don't recommend this book.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Book Review of El Deafo by Cece Bell

I wanted to read (and review) El Deafo by Cece Bell for three reasons. One is that, thanks to a crappy immune system, I've had over a hundred ear infections (and tubes three times) in my life, and I'm lucky to still be able to hear, but I never want to take that for granted. Two is that, of course, it fits right in with my mission as a Diverse Book Blogger. (Click the link in the right sidebar for more information.) And three is that sign language and Deaf culture are very important to my husband, a teacher who has some Deaf and hard-of-hearing students, has volunteered at a Deaf camp, and is trying to start an ASL club at his school currently. So, when he mentioned wanting to read this book, I figured I'd join him. His book pick was solid, and I was far from disappointed. I just love the cover. The way the characters are drawn in this book really reminds me of the Arthur books, which I really enjoyed as a kid.

El Deafo is Cece Bell's graphic novel autobiography of becoming deaf and navigating childhood afterward. A cartoonized Cece (sometimes the caped superhero version she imagines of herself, the titular El Deafo) deals with friendship drama, classroom challenges, hearing aid malfunctions, unnerving doctor's appointments, scary sleepovers, and feelings about her sudden hearing loss. If there is one basic throughline of the story, it is Cece learning to live with her deafness and figuring out who her real allies are during a difficult time of change and growth.

El Deafo could be useful to hearing kids who want to understand what Deaf or hard-of-hearing kids are going through. Bell takes the time to explain things step-by-step, such as how to speak if someone is trying to read your lips, or how to be considerate of a Deaf or hard-of-hearing friend without patronizing them or making them feel different. It could also be beneficial for adults who work with Deaf or hard-of-hearing kids, though, obviously, it is written at a MG reading level and the material is presented for that audience, because Bell also points out some of the obstacles she faced in the classroom, which teachers and other adults could've been better prepared to help with. And, though I'm not Deaf or hard-of-hearing, I wonder if it wouldn't also be great for those readers as well, especially if they are MG reading level, because they might feel sympatico with Cece when she explains how frustrating it is when hearing people don't understand some of the challenges she faces, or what a relief it can be to simply turn off her hearing aid when she wants quiet.

What's wonderful about El Deafo is Bell's emotional honesty, and the fact that she was clearly prepared to explain difficult concepts and share painful feelings for the benefit of her readers. Also, the character of Cece is so lovable that I rooted for her from the first page, and even if I'd had no interest in the subject matter, Cece's sympathetic character would've kept me reading until the end.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Book Review of Crazy Is My Superpower by AJ Mendez Brooks

I might just be the only person who read Crazy Is My Superpower by AJ Mendez Brooks without knowing from the outset that she was a professional wrestler. Actually, I had never heard of her before. I simply enjoy books in the memoir/autobiography genre, I wanted to read something by someone who was living with mental illness, and I liked the cover design, so I requested a free review copy from Blogging For Books. Then, I found out she was a Latinx nerd who grew up in poverty. Now, that is intersectionality. I was hooked. But, speaking of the cover design, I think it is really fun and attention-grabbing. It reminds me of comic book art.

One of the things I enjoyed about this book is that Mendez Brooks has a great voice... it is very authentic and casual. I felt like we were chillin' on her couch, playing video games and scratching her dog behind the ears. Reading this book was more like having a conversation with one of my guy friends than picking up a typical memoir. Also, Mendez Brooks doesn't shy away from difficult and painful subjects, nor does she attempt to make light of them. She also admits when she made bad choices, and takes responsibility for them. She has a winning attitude, and a personality that shines through from the first chapter, making her readers want to root for her, which is a key ingredient in any successful memoir. She also has the sense of humor of that girl down the hall in my dorm that all the guys used to love hanging out with because she'd win their burping contests. 

Crazy Is My Superpower unpacks child poverty, domestic violence, homelessness and vagrant living, the realities of having teen parents (and one parent with severe mental illness), sibling relationships, academics, social issues at school, personal style, love of video games and dogs, respect, how women are treated in the professional wrestling industry, persistence, and so many more relevant issues. The writing quality is spotty, with some passages being so profound and wonderfully written that I had to stop and reread them many times because they bowled me over with their excellence, and others being so preachy, cheesy, or simply bad that I found myself rolling my eyes. Crazy Is My Superpower certainly could've used an editor with tighter reins on the project, since Mendez Brooks is a celebrity author, not a career writer, 

However, Mendez Brooks brought an unquestionable level of honesty to the table, no matter what issue she was discussing or painful childhood memory she was recounting at that moment on the page. The comics of her at each stage of life designed to introduce each chapter were one of my favorite parts of the book, and I looked forward to starting a new chapter just to see another one. The fact that I have literally zero interest in wrestling and had never heard of Mendez Brooks before picking up this book didn't keep me from enjoying it in the slightest. 

Of course, I'd recommend Crazy Is My Superpower to fans of Mendez Brooks and female wrestlers (or just wrestling in general), but I'd also recommend it to people who have an interest in memoirs about mental illness or child poverty, as well, and to teens who like non-fiction in general, as I think Mendez Brooks' conversational tone, candor, and inability to shy away from difficult topics will be most appreciated by that audience. Crazy Is My Superpower by AJ Mendez Brooks comes out today.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Book Review of Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

I've had Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson on hold at the library ever since Nena Bolling Smith Tweeted about how good it was. (Since every other book rec from her has been on point, I was sure this one wouldn't let me down.) Then, when I wrote in to Jamillah, founder of the amazing Call Number book box to tell her how much I'd been enjoying her book recommendations, she seconded this one, so I was thrilled when I finally got that sweet sweet notification from the library saying it was ready to be picked up. Something about how empty the cover is and how small Mary, the MC, is depicted on the front, and about how you can't really even make out the details of her face is very powerful. The cover design really works for me.

Since I love stories about Juvie and group homes and the like (The Fosters, The Walls Around Us, Short Term 12), I figured Allegedly would be right up my alley. It tells the story of Mary, who was nine when her Mom was babysitting a baby girl who died. Mary was convicted (without a trial or, really, any evidence) of killing the baby and sentenced to six years of juvenile jail before she is transferred to a group home, where the story picks up. Some may assume the crux of the narrative lies in the potential racial conflict (Mary and her Mom are black, the deceased baby girl was white), and other readers might think the story's focus lies with Mary's Mom's physical and psychological abuse and obvious mental illness. ...but Jackson will keep readers guessing (or assuming they know what's going on) right up until the very end. 

One thing that really didn't work for me were the excerpts, sprinkled liberally throughout the book, which are supposed to show bits and pieces of books, interviews, and testimony having to do with Mary's legal case. The writing within them was of poor quality compared to that of the narrative itself, and I found them to be distracting and frustrating, as a reader. While I realize that some of them contained necessary information, many did not, and I felt like they were just wasting time and page space in a book that was longer than it needed to be. 3/4ths of them could've easily been removed without taking anything away from the story. And, in addition to tightening up the book, this would have also stopped the feeling of being ripped out of Mary's world at the moments when I usually found it to be most compelling.

Jackson does not shy away from the ugly truths of the juvenile "justice" system. She accurately portrays the wretched conditions in which children who are suspected of or have been found guilty of crimes are allowed to exist. Jackson shines a light on the many adults involved in the system who are out for themselves, instead of striving to improve the lives of the children they are employed to rehabilitate. She also highlights intersectionality well, allowing her readers to feel the full weight of poverty, a Black identity, the stigma of mental illness, and the label of "violent criminal," as well as those of "minor" and "female." Each is another stone around Mary's neck, holding her down from making any sort of progress--at times literally from growing up in a world that seems to see her as disposable on many fronts. 

I'd recommend this book to those who enjoy gritty stories about harsh realities, or complicated stories involving unreliable narrators or deep psychological issues. It definitely isn't for everyone, but it was a powerful story that kept me thinking long after I finished that last gut-punching page.