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Jul 14

Teens Review, SRP Edition: Just Mercy

Posted on July 14, 2020 at 12:00 AM by Elizabeth Land

During this year's Summer Reading Program, teens can submit reviews of books they have been reading. Below find our first nonfiction review. Already read this book? Check out our list of readalikes, hand-picked by library staff, below.

Just Mercy (Adapted for Young Adults) by Bryan Stevenson
Reviewed by: Blaine H.
Rating: 5 stars

just ercy for young adults book coverJust Mercy is a story told from the point of view of the author, Bryan Stevenson. Stevenson is a lawyer whose primary focus is getting people released from Death Row, specifically people who had experienced an unfair trial or were falsely imprisoned. Stevenson founded a law firm called the Equal Justice Initiative in 1989, and the firm is still practicing law today. In Just Mercy, Stevenson tells the story of how he managed to get an African-American man named Walter McMillian off of death row and released from prison.

In 1987, Walter was falsely accused of murdering a white girl named Ronda Morrison. Walter became a suspect in the murder because he had been involved in an affair with a white woman named Karen Kelly. This is clearly not good enough to be considered evidence for this case, but the inexperienced sheriff, Tom Tate, was pressured to obtain a suspect, and he’d do anything to close the case. Walter was arrested, and his trial was even more unfair than the “evidence” against him. A witness against Walter, Ralph Myers, clearly told a far-fetched and false story about the event in order to receive less time for his own jail sentence. Walter was convicted of murder from Myers’s testimony and placed on death row. (Ralph Myers later admitted to falsely testifying against Walter.)

Bryan Stevenson was Walter’s lawyer who tried to get him off death row because of his unfair trial. Stevenson had just started up a tiny law firm in Alabama, and the sole purpose of the firm was to help unfairly imprisoned people get off death row. He went around asking many people in Monroe County about Walter McMillian’s case, including his own family. Walter’s family adamantly denied Walter’s involvement in the murder of Ronda Morrison, and gave compelling (and true, for that matter) evidence to prove that Walter was innocent. After six years of scrambling for evidence, testimonies, and new trials, Walter was finally set free. At his release trial, Stevenson stood up and made a statement to the judge about how it was way too easy to convict Walter, a black man in Monroe County Alabama, on a crime he didn’t commit. Walter’s case represents the mistreatment and unfairness towards African Americans even in the late 1980s, particularly in the southern states.

While telling the story of Walter McMillian, Stevenson also tells stories of other cases of people falsely imprisoned. These stories included cases that Stevenson himself worked on as well as other cases. Stevenson includes the time he first met a death row inmate in 1983. He remembers the joy on the man’s face when he told him he wasn’t going to be executed within the next year. He also remembers the mistreatment the inmate received when being “escorted” from the visitation room by a guard. Another story he tells is of the falsely imprisoned Marsha Colbey. Marsha had given birth to a stillborn child, but was accused of murdering the child. She was sent to a women’s prison in Alabama for a life sentence.

These stories, Walter’s and others, give voices to many people who have been falsely or unfairly imprisoned. I would definitely give Just Mercy five stars for raising awareness to the mistreatment of African Americans in the justice system, as well as awareness of false imprisonments in general. Just Mercy helped me understand the extent to which racism is still alive in the United States, and I was very frustrated reading some parts of the book. There is a lot of meaning to Just Mercy, and it is very well written by Mr. Stevenson. In 2019, it was made into a movie, which was equally as good as the book itself. I strongly suggest, especially now when racial injustice is prominent in the news, that people should read this book in order to educate themselves in the under-representation of the poor, vulnerable, and racially oppressed.

Nonfiction Readalikes
  • Accused!: The trials of the Scottsboro Boys by Larry Dane Brimner
    Summary: Tells the story of the Scottsboro Boys, nine African-American teenagers who, when riding the rails during the Great Depression, found their lives destroyed after two white women falsely accused them of rape. The author explains how it took more than eighty years for their wrongful convictions to be overturned.
  • Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendistampedcover
    Summary: The construct of race has always been used to gain and keep power, to create dynamics that separate and silence. This remarkable reimagining of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi's National Book Award-winning Stamped from the Beginning reveals the history of racist ideas in America, and inspires hope for an antiracist future. It takes you on a race journey from then to now, shows you why we feel how we feel, and why the poison of racism lingers. It also proves that while racist ideas have always been easy to fabricate and distribute, they can also be discredited.
  • We Are Not Equal Yet by Carol Anderson
    Summary: From the end of the Civil War to the tumultuous issues in America today, an acclaimed historian reframes the conversation about race, chronicling the powerful forces opposed to black progress in America.
Fiction Readalikes
  • All-American Boys by Jason ReynoldsAll American Boys book cover
    Summary: When sixteen-year-old Rashad is mistakenly accused of stealing, classmate Quinn witnesses his brutal beating at the hands of a police officer who happens to be the older brother of his best friend. Told through Rashad and Quinn's alternating viewpoints.
  • Tyler Johnson Was Here by Jay Coles
    Summary: When Marvin Johnson's twin brother, Tyler, is shot and killed by a police officer, Marvin must fight injustice to learn the true meaning of freedom.
  • Dear Martin by Nic Stone
    Summary: Writing letters to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., seventeen-year-old college-bound Justyce McAllister struggles to face the reality of race relations today and how they are shaping him.
Summer Reading

This year during the York County Public Library Summer Reading program, we're imagining our stories everyday. Are you a teen participant? Make sure you submit a review of a book you read during the program to help earn your "Imagine Your Story" Quest activity badge. Haven't registered, yet, you say? It's not too late to sign up! Register through our Summer Reading Portal and start logging minutes and activities to win prizes all summer long.