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Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
Posted: by Madeline on January 31, 2017
This non-fiction book was chosen for the “Books on Deck Community Book Club” January 2017 read, and we met to discuss it in the Craigleith Heritage Depot’s turret room on January 25. Although “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stevenson was published in 2014 and is set in the United States of America, its subject matter remains incredibly relevant today and for Canadians and Americans alike.
The book follows Stevenson, who is both the author and main character, as he exits law school and founds the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), which “challenges poverty and racial injustice, advocates for equal treatment in the criminal justice system, and creates hope for marginalized communities” (statement from the organization’s website). Although the EJI starts very small, it has grown to a large organization with numerous successful projects and cases behind it. The book charts this progress, along with Stevenson’s growth as a legal professional.
The case that “Just Mercy” follows most closely is that of Walter McMillan, a poor African American man in Alabama who was sentenced to the death penalty for a crime he did not commit. Stevenson takes on his case early on in the book, and he subsequently touches upon it again and again as the book progresses. McMillan provides a very personal, human face for the injustices that many of Stevenson’s clients experience and his is a truly compelling thread in the story.
Stevenson uses an engaging narrative style, somewhat unusual for a non-fiction book but effective for his purposes. The book confronts some of the darkest issues with the American justice system: racism, sexism, drug use, sexual assault, poverty, abuse of people with disabilities, and several other intersecting forms of oppression. Without Stevenson’s steady message of mercy, hope, and perseverance, many readers would find this book entirely upsetting, frustrating, and off-putting. You may still find it so, and that is because it can definitely still be a difficult read at times. However, it can be important to read things that make us uncomfortable because then we can start to figure out how we can work to create positive change.
Please note that the next meeting for “Books on Deck Community Book Club” is open to everyone, members and non-members alike. Although the book club is essentially full due to popular demand, anyone can join our discussion on February 22, 2017 in honour of Black History Month if they have read the chosen book: “The Invention of Wings” by Sue Monk Kidd.
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