76 pages 2 hours read

Tiffany D. Jackson


Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2017

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Summary and Study Guide


Allegedly (2017), a young adult contemporary novel by Tiffany D. Jackson, tells the story of Mary Beth Addison, an African American teenager who has spent the last six of her 15 years in custody for allegedly murdering a white baby, Alyssa Richardson. Currently, Mary lives in a group home in Brooklyn with her foster mother and five roommates, who at times, endanger Mary’s life. Mary’s mother, Dawn Cooper—Momma—struggles with mental illness, but she visits Mary regularly and is a consistent presence.

The novel unfolds through three channels: Mary’s narration; dialogue; and detailed fictitious excerpts, such as deposition transcripts, inmate interviews, and witness statements. These excerpts sit outside of the narrative body, explaining or foreshadowing elements of the novel.

Momma had been a close friend throughout Mrs. Melissa Richardson’s pregnancy. As a former neonatal nurse, Momma provided comfort and care once Alyssa was born. On their first night out away from the baby, the Richardsons entrusted Alyssa to Momma and Mary’s care; however, when the Richardsons returned, they found that someone had brutally murdered Alyssa.  

Mary is convicted of Alyssa’s murder, but she maintains her innocence. Mary claims that the case was not properly investigated because of her ethnicity, and the majority-white jury already thought she was guilty before she took the stand. There is, however, plenty of evidence to prove that Alyssa died in Mary’s vicinity.

Much of what makes Mary sympathetic, and thus believable, arises from stories of her childhood. As the daughter of Momma, a narcissist who is legitimately mentally ill, Mary endures emotional, psychological, and physical abuse. Momma appears loving and dedicated toward Mary, but Momma is willing to go to any lengths for a man’s affections. While Momma is with her boyfriend Ramon “Ray” Vaquero, they suffer the loss of their baby boy, Junior. It is a traumatic loss for Momma, but for Mary too, as Junior was in Mary’s care when he passed away in his sleep. This trauma changes Momma and alters the parent-child dynamic between Momma and Mary. Momma takes medication and is often lucid, but continues to placate Ray, giving Mary unwarranted prescription drugs and looking the other way when Mary accuses Ray of abuse. 

At the group home, Mary has no friends. She eventually meets a young boy named Ted during her mandatory community service at a local nursing home. Ted is a parolee and lives in a group home across town. Mary and Ted have sex, and she becomes pregnant. When Mary learns she may not be able to keep her baby due to her conviction, she both reveals and concocts key pieces of information about her childhood, Momma, Mrs. Richardson, and the night of Alyssa’s death that all point the blame at Momma. 

There is a legal path forward that carries enough weight to merit a new trial for Mary. Mary meets Ms. Cora Fisher from the Absolution Project, a woman who takes a special interest in Mary after following Mary’s case in law school. Ms. Cora cares for her and is aggressive in moving Mary’s case forward. 

Mary overcomes countless obstacles to appeal her case. In the end, Mary realizes she cannot send Momma to jail, regardless of Momma’s culpability in Alyssa’s death. Mary forgives Momma, though she does not tell her, and claims it would not be fair to send Momma to jail. Mary tells Ms. Cora she wants to drop the case. Ms. Cora is not able, nor does she want to stop the process they’ve put in motion, leaving uncertainty surrounding the futures of both Mary and Momma. On the ride to her new group home for pregnant mothers, Mary also accepts the fact she may not be ready to care for her baby on her own. 

Once Mary has arrived at the group home, she has talked herself into believing a fantasy scenario regarding the adoption of her baby boy; one that not only questions Mary’s grasp on reality, but that speaks to the inheritable pathologies and cyclical nature innate in family dynamics.