Questionable Convictions: Guilty, or Not Guilty?
The emergence of advanced scientific forensics has resulted in the ability to re-evaluate convictions. DNA via hair, blood, saliva and other bodily fluids have been used to overturn some guilty convictions for violent crimes. Newer technologies can pinpoint details better. Highly trained dogs can sniff out corpses or drugs. Appeals must be filed, but rarely a change in verdict results. With so many crime fiction and forensic television shows on the air, it may look easier than it is in reality.
These two Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers delve into this world of questionable convictions and their suspenseful plots and gritty topics make them great books for readers interested in the criminal justice system.
Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson
Harper Collins/Katherine Tegen Books
January 24, 2017
The jury said she did it. The media said she did it. Only nine years old and convicted for manslaughter, Mary B. Addison didn’t say anything. Three-month-old Alyssa was in the care of her babysitter, Mary’s mother, when she died of suspicious circumstances while sleeping in Mary’s room. Six years later Mary, now fifteen, is released from “baby jail” and is living in a supervised group home wearing an ankle monitor. The issue-oriented storyline is brought to the forefront when a pregnant Mary now finally wants to attempt to clear her name, so that her own baby is not taken away by social services.
This dramatic hook grabs the reader’s attention very quickly, and pacing intensifies throughout the saga. Although flawed in character, Mary is somewhat vulnerable and garners sympathy at times. Portrayed by the media as a baby killer with rage tendencies, Mary struggles with revealing her true self while in a group home with violent criminals as roommates. The home is a menacing place full of bullying, brutality, theft, and much verbal abuse.
While performing her community service hours at a local nursing home, she meets Ted and begins a discreet relationship. Ted has his own demons, and does not inquire about Mary’s crime or Alyssa. He supports her quest to take the SAT and go to college, but his methods are sometimes dubious. Readers may find themselves rooting for Mary as she is bullied in the group home, just wanting to study for the SAT and do the best she can for her future baby.
With the looming threat of social services taking the baby, Mary brings a lawyer into the equation. Divulging information that may incriminate her mother while exonerating herself, some involved with the case become swayed. Even baby Alyssa’s mother advocates on Mary’s behalf. The complex relationship Mary has with her own mother unfolds as readers learn more about that fateful night. The intense, gritty descriptions of the group home, cultural implications, and other challenges Mary faces are engaging and hauntingly realistic. The effect of the media condemning Mary’s situation is thought-provoking and on target.
Aficionados of Paul Volponi’s Riker’s High, Gary D. Schmidt’s Orbiting Jupiter, and Piper Kerman’s book inspired television series, Orange is the New Black, are ideal readers for author Tiffany D. Jackson’s first novel.
Overturned by Lamar Giles
March 28, 2017
Nikki Tate’s father has been on death row for the past five years. During that time, she has taken the lead on running their family owned casino, running illegal card games to save money for escaping Vegas and going away to college. When new evidence overturns her dad’s conviction, he is released from death row, obsessed with finding out who set him up for killing his best friend over a gambling dispute. However, Nikki’s time with her dad is limited, as he is murdered shortly after returning from prison. Nikki is determined to find both her father’s killer and the person who set him up to go to jail in the first place.
The Las Vegas atmosphere is fast paced and intriguing. The attention-grabbing premise and the drama of her father’s release and sudden violent death drives the plot. A strong African-American female, Nikki embraces her independence, which surfaces in her character as both spirited and gutsy. At first, cash is what entices Nikki, as she maneuvers wagers to exploit easy marks in back room games of Texas Hold’em. Pacing intensifies as Nikki investigates her father’s ordeal. Along the way, she begins a relationship with Davis Carlino, son of rival casino owner, “Big Bert” Carlino. When Nikki’s reveals her new relationship to her mother, a deeper rivalry with secrets from the past emerges. Readers become further engrossed in what could be Nikki’s biggest gamble of all, her safety, as the gritty dark side of Vegas threatens to keep its secrets at all costs.
Overturned is a great fit for crime fiction readers, especially Jennifer Lynn Barnes series, The Naturals and The Fixer, and Joe Schreiber’s Con Academy. Additionally, television viewers of Riverdale and the original CSI, set in Las Vegas, will relish this casino-based crime mystery.
-Lisa Krok and Jessica Ormonde
Find all of the 2018 Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers nominees in the index or browse the posts.