Allegedly tells the story of Mary B. Addison, a teenager convicted for killing a baby at the age of nine. When a white baby died in the care of a black church-going woman and her daughter, the public convicted Mary and the jury made it official. But did she do it? She wouldn’t say. There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but when the state threatens to take her unborn baby, Mary must find the voice to fight her past.
The idea for Allegedly came to debut author Tiffany D. Jackson after she learned of a real case from 2012 – the case of a nine-year-old, who, like Mary, was charged with murder.
“My only question was: What if she didn’t do it? What would that story look like…based in Brooklyn?” said Jackson.
Jackson wrote the first draft of Allegedly in a week, just after Hurricane Sandy hit.
“With the Internet down, I went to the Brooklyn Public Library and combed through books, researching case studies on child murderers and the juvenile justice system.
“For the second draft, I spoke to experts, like lawyers, doctors, social workers, and correctional officers. For the third draft, I spoke to girls who had actually been through the system. That’s when the story, or I should say Mary, found a voice.”
But by the time she finished her manuscript, the ending of Allegedly had dramatically changed since that first draft.
“I added a “shock value” so the story would stay with you longer,” said Jackson. “I never want you to forget Mary.”
Mary’s story – like the stories of so many real children and teenagers in the juvenile justice system – is rooted in poverty, abuse and injustice. Tough themes – but although she jokes that it makes her sound morbid, writing dark stories with complicated protagonists comes naturally to Jackson.
“There’s a side of me that is really fascinated by the darker side of a person’s story because it’s so unknown. Growing up, I read stories with nothing but these picture perfect happy endings while surrounded by kids that weren’t so fortunate. It frustrated me, wondering what happens to the kids that aren’t adopted, or are sent to jail for petty crimes, or are sexually abused at home. Where are the stories about them and their outcomes?”
Their stories are found aplenty in Allegedly. Mary, and the girls she lives with – some of whom are guilty of the crimes they’ve been sentenced for, some of whom are innocent – are a sympathetic and wonderfully diverse group of characters. Jackson doesn’t sugarcoat the abuses Mary and her peers suffer at the hands of their guardians, the media and the justice system, and she hopes that her more privileged readers will be able to read Allegedly and put themselves in Mary’s shoes for a while.
“You know the saying, ‘show don’t tell’? Well, I think that is crucial in diverse lit. It’s not just about kids seeing themselves on the page; it’s also about showing and exposing other kids to different cultures and experiences — giving them an opportunity to live in someone else’s shoes through the page and build/strengthen their empathy. You can’t force feed knowledge; sometimes you have to present a story and let kids learn for themselves,” said Jackson.
Jackson hopes Mary’s story inspires action.
“I’d hope this story sticks with you, fills you with outrage, so that you’ll always remember there are REAL girls out there, going through the system and how unfair it is to them. Then, get involved! Volunteer, make noise, and donate to organizations in your area.”
Allegedly is available now.