An abused child who killed two toddlers is the subject of a lengthy profile that attempts to understand the root causes of such acts and pleads for a different approach to the treatment of youthful offenders. This study is Sereny's second book on Mary Bell, whose highly publicized trial she covered in 1968, and a continuation of her exploration of crime and conscience (Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth, 1995; etc.). Working closely with Mary for two years, Sereny explores her feelings about her life as a child, as an adolescent in detention, as an adult in prison, and now as a mother trying to live a normal life outside prison. Sereny recounts the investigation, trial, and Mary's incarceration, including Mary's present-day reflections on past events. After being convicted of manslaughter, Mary, a clearly disturbed 11-year-old, was sent to a reform school for boys, a relatively benign environment where the staff was well-meaning but untrained in psychotherapy. At age 16, however, she was transferred to a maximum security prison for women. Seven years later, she was released on parole, poorly socialized and ill equipped for life outside. Under Sereny's persistent questioning, Mary reluctantly talks about her disastrous childhood and her love-hate relationship with her mother, a prostitute who had sexually abused her, had twice tried to give her away, and had made several attempts to kill her. Sereny, who has faith in the innate goodness of human beings and the healing power of therapy, argues that before the killings Mary was reaching a breaking point that ought to have been recognized by those around her and that children who commit serious crimes should be regarded not as evil but as severely disturbed. This book may not have the sensational appearl here that it had in England, where it was a bestseller, but this study of her case raises important—and very relevant'social and moral questions about responsibility, rehabilitation, and redemption.
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