Thursday, September 3, 2020

"Just Mercy: Adapted for Young Adults" by Bryan Stevenson

Did you know there was a version of Bryan Stevenson's bestseller Just Mercy that was adapted for younger readers?  I didn't realize that until this arrived in the mail -- I must not have been paying good attention the day I ordered it.  Oops!  I got it to read with the book club hosted by Musings of Jamie this month, and I tried to get the adult version from the library once I realized my mistake, but too many people were in line ahead of me. So I read the copy I had.  

And I'm glad I did. Even this toned-down, older-teen-friendly version had me in tears multiple times. I had to put it down for a couple days because parts of it hurt so much. My heart cried out in sympathy to children tried, convicted, and incarcerated as if they were adults. To mentally challenged people tried with no regard for their abilities or lack thereof. To people disregarded, silenced, and thrown away as if they were disposable face masks, not people created in the image of God. 

This is a memoir about Stevenson's work as a lawyer advocating for people either wrongly convicted, punished too harshly, or being mistreated within the prison system.  He starts out talking about when he was an idealistic young law student doing an internship in Alabama, and traces his career over about three decades as he helped start the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI).  A lot of the book focuses on EJI's efforts to free a man on death row in Alabama that they discovered had been falsely accused and wrongly convicted.  If you've seen the 2019 movie Just Mercy, that's the case that the film focuses in on.  

But Stevenson also talks about many other cases.  About children, about women, about criminals, about innocent people.  Some of the cases were very distressing to me personally.  And some parts were very upbeat and hopeful.  I think I cried the most over a prison guard who gradually went from being a despicable bully to a pretty understanding guy.

My biggest takeaway from this book is that if we look to humans to fix a broken system, to fix their broken selves, to fix the broken society we've created -- that's is like asking my teacup with the broken handle to fix itself. It can't. We can't. Try as we might, spout wisdom or good thoughts or kindness all we want, but we can't become better under our own power. 

However, we CAN change for the better when we rely on God's power. God can fix this mess. But he's not a genie in a bottle who'll grant a wish or two or three. There's no *poof* of magic to change this brokenness from without. It will only come from hearts changed by his love, by faith in him instead of in ourselves or other people. 

 Anyway. I did not agree with every conclusion or statement that Stevenson made, but he stated his beliefs compellingly and gave me a lot to think about.  If you think this book sounds too heavy, try the YA version. It's tough. But it's important.

I really appreciated that the book includes references in the back for many of the statistics and other things referred to in the book.  That was really important to me, as it showed that Stevenson and the publishers valued credibility and spreading awareness, not sensationalism.

(From my Instagram account)

Particularly Good Bits: 

We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated.  An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, an entire nation.  Fear and anger can make us cruel and abusive.  We all suffer from the absence of mercy and we harm ourselves as much as we victimize others (p. 18).

Walter's case taught me that fear and anger are a threat to justice; they can infect a community, a state, or a nation and make us blind, irrational, and dangerous (p. 260).

If This was a movie, I Would Rate It:  PG-16, at least.  It talks about children being abused physically, mentally, and sexually, though not in a graphic way.  It also talks about miscegenation laws, people committing adultery, some slightly graphic discussions of death by electric chair, and other violent subjects.  Much too intense for most younger teens, imho.

This was my 33rd book read off my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2020.


  1. This book was so powerful. Heartbreaking but also inspires change.


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