With a black mother suffering from multiple mental conditions and a possibly white father who’s “N/A”—at least according to her birth certificate—15-year-old Mary B. Addison finds herself navigating the prison-industrial complex alone for allegedly killing a 3-month-old white baby.
She was placed in “baby jail” at 9 under a cloud of national notoriety spawned by her case. Now she endures unremitting bullying from the staff and the other girls at the all-female group home in Brooklyn, where she lives under house arrest; the attentions of the do-gooder white female writing coach who tries to give the young women hope through words yet “knows [their] future is grim”; and the bureaucratic obstacles to get a state ID simply to take the SAT. While in this gritty environment, Mary becomes pregnant by her boyfriend, Ted, an 18-year-old black man who is also confined in the labyrinth of the penal system but later must turn to “survival sex” to maintain his shelter. The author presents all of this as a matter of fact in Mary’s voice, not sensationally or, worse, exploitatively. Because of this, her novel effectively joins Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th and Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow (2010) to become another indictment of the penal system’s decimating power beyond its bars and, more subtly and refreshingly, a pro–reproductive-justice novel.
Searing and true. (Fiction. 14-adult)