Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
My Book Club has decided to merge August and September’s books together, which is a good thing overall, since August was *crazy* for us all. Plus, B and D, the members who had the respective picks, decided to go with similarly themed books. B chose Coates’s Between the World and Me (which I read last year and found really profound and insightful), and D chose Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. I had a strong reaction to it, which he was not expecting. The Chancellor’s review is going to be more favorable than mine, so I’ll let you decide where your opinion lies.
Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he went down to Alabama to help a prisoner on death row appeal his execution. Stevenson discovered an incredible miscarriage of justice that routinely occurs on death row, and so he helped found the Equal Justice Initiative, a program that helps women, children, the poor, and those individuals desperately in need of fair and honest representation. This book is really three books merged into one:
*a memoir of Stevenson’s experiences as a lawyer working a lot of death-row cases
*the true-crime story of Walter McMillin, a man falsely accused of murdering a white woman and appealing his death sentence
*a sociological treatise on death row, mass incarceration, and wrongful imprisonment of people of color
Content-wise, this book is heartbreaking and necessary, but my issues lay with writing and organization. For me, the McMillin case works the best in the book. I feel like Stevenson repeats himself at times and juxtaposes a few too many stories and cases into what is billed as a memoir. There’s a huge shift in topics and sometimes, I feel like Stevenson tries to say too much in not enough space. Finally, having read The New Jim Crow first, I felt like Stevenson repeats a lot of information that doesn’t feel necessary for this genre of text. Further, he weakens his own book by including a lot of important information you can already get from other academic texts and not letting his strongest writing (the chapter “Broken” is especially powerful) shine. This was a 3.5 star book for me personally. But again, I like good writing if the subject area is already somewhat familiar to me. And this just didn’t quite do it for me the way I was promised it would.