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Whew - it's been a while since I've posted but I've been busy reading Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson and let me tell you, this book is not for the faint of heart. While it IS an amazing read and I highly recommend it, get ready to really start questioning our criminal justice system. Bryan Stevenson is a lawyer who specializes in overturning wrongful convictions of death row inmates. His book, Just Mercy, is a nonfiction retelling of how he got started working with death row inmates and presents to the reader some of his most heartbreaking cases. The book mainly follows the case of Walter McMillian who has been wrongly accused of a murder and placed on death row. Once Stevenson starts looking into Mr. McMillian's case, he uncovers a series of cover ups and fabricated evidence that was used to secure a guilty verdict. Never mind that Mr. McMillian has about 30 people that were with him at the time of the murder and can attest to his innocence, McMillian still finds himself on death row. Throughout the novel, Stevenson revisits McMillian's story, while taking every other chapter to describe another case he's working on, giving the reader a good idea of what it must be like to be a lawyer (being pulled in 30 different directions at once). I won't spoil the ending for you, but I will tell you it's a very interesting, if not intense, read.
I've got to admit, reading this book took me outside of my comfort zone a bit. Usually, when I pick up a book to read for pleasure, I like something entertaining. I like to escape in my reading. This book is NOT that book. I knew when I picked it up that it was going to be a hard book to read. I'm very interested in social injustices, but generally find myself better equipped to handle an article on the subject rather than an entire book. Reading a novel that is entirely dedicated to exposing corruption and wrongful treatment of innocent people is gut-wrenching at times. I found myself having to put the book down and give myself a break from the heaviness of it.
That being said, I am so glad I read this book because I learned SO MUCH from it. Questions I'd never even considered before have now become things I think about on a regular basis. In Language Arts, I've been known to say that we've got to talk about the hard stuff if we want to make a change. Reading this forced me to think about some of the hard stuff (and don't be surprised if some of the topics addressed in this book become the topic of an AOW or a seminar in the near future). Reading this book made me realize a few things. First, wrongful convictions are more common than we would like to think. Second, our justice system tends to favor the wealthy and privileged. Finally, more people need to be aware of these issues if we are ever going to make any positive changes.
So, would I recommend this book, absolutely, but with one caveat. If you do decide to pick up this book, do so with the understanding that it is nonfiction, it is real, and it can be heavy at times. However, as informed citizens we realize that sometimes we have to talk about the hard stuff in order to make a change.