Thow the book at ‘em: Author tackles juvenile justice system in new novel

Thow the book at ‘em: Author tackles juvenile justice system in new novel
Photo by Caleb Caldwell

She’s got a killer motive for writing.

A Crown Heights author hopes that her new young adult novel will help provoke a new generation of activism. “Allegedly,” launching at Powerhouse in Dumbo on Jan. 25, tells the story of Mary, a pregnant teenage girl accused of murdering a toddler and thrown into an uncaring justice system — and despite the book’s heavy subject, the author thinks it will resonate with young readers.

“I would hope that I could spark some type of outrage as far as the judicial system goes, and what goes on in juvenile facilities to get young adults more active to help girls in Mary’s situation,” said Tiffany D. Jackson. “If you’re outraged as a 16-year-old, at 25 you’ll still be outraged, and hopefully be more interested in getting involved.”

“Allegedly” is loosely based on the true story of a 10-year-old Maine girl convicted of manslaughter in the death of an infant. In her book, Jackson made the character a black girl from Brooklyn so that she could explore the racial disparities in both the justice system and in the court of public opinion.

“I really wanted to touch upon racial discrimination, because if Mary was a white girl, a lot of the things she went through wouldn’t have happened,” said Jackson. “I touch upon it lightly and people can pick it up as they go along. But I wanted to show how unfair it can be.”

The book is also an exposé of the media cycle that followed the real case, said Jackson.

“In a way, I’m calling the media out and showing what happens when they take a story and blow it into something that is unrecognizable,” she said. “Because that elicits the crazy. There is no other way I can eloquently put it — when the story is already out there, then there comes a reaction on Twitter and so much public involvement, but people don’t know the real story.”

While researching the book, Jackson spoke to correction officers, psychologists, and social workers who deal with troubled teenage girls. And her background as a television producer gave her first-hand experience of the type of media firestorm portrayed in the book.

And — no spoilers — but the story ends with a surprising twist that Jackson hopes will awaken the activism in her readers.

“It ends on a more shocking note for the main character for sure,” she said. “I did it that way because I want the book to stay with you longer — I want people to remember the story. I want readers to always remember what happens to girls like Mary and inspire them to be more involved.”

“Allegedly” book launch at Powerhouse [28 Adams St. between Water and Front Streets in Dumbo, (718) 666–3049, www.powerhousearena.com]. Jan. 25 at 7 pm. Free.