Let me just start by saying that this book is in the running for the best book I have read all year. Big shout out to my friend Katie for the recommendation!

Just Mercy is a non-fiction book written by Bryan Stevenson, an American lawyer and the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative. Bryan’s mandate is simple: defend the oppressed and abused. As Bryan writes about the many clients he has defended,he exposes the humanity, compassion and astonishing optimism of the men and women caught within the criminal justice system. From death row inmates to children on life sentences, the stories in Just Mercy are devastating. The system that was meant to protect and serve has far too often contributed to the oppression and marginalization of those in need. And yet, Bryan Stevenson’s writing is saturated with hope and a firm determination to shine a light in the dark.

The Good

Just Mercy was a painful, insightful and beautiful read. The depravity and utter wickedness of man is so apparent in the stories of the men and women who have been wrongly accused and unfairly sentenced. I was moved to tears in reading about Walter McMillan, whose story was weaved throughout the novel. Walter was sentenced to die for a crime he did not commit. My heart broke for Walter, as years of his life were stolen from him by a system that should have fought for the truth. I read several chapters blurry eyed while while clutching my chest. The stories of the children sentenced to death row and life in prison were horrifying. Having grown up with ample opportunity and support to succeed I am deeply ignorant of the suffering that so many face. Just Mercy was a huge wake-up call.

I was convicted by Bryan Steveson’s compassion. Instead of judging the condemned, Bryan enters in to their spaces and joins in their struggle. Bryan writes,

“Proximity has taught me some basic and humbling truths, including this vital lesson: Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”  

Several years ago, I thought justice meant harsh punishment regardless of the the offenders history. I was certain that right and wrong were black and white concepts that everyone should abide by. My eyes have slowly been opened to the utter lack of grace and supreme ignorance in this response. People that have committed crimes are more than the crimes they have committed. They are deserving of compassion and kindness. Many incarcerated men and women have suffered abuse, neglect, mental illness, racism, violence and a host of other traumatic experiences. An individual’s choices cannot be separated from their history. Bryan Stevenson argues that, “An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Fear and anger can make us vindictive and abusive”. With the volatility of the recent US presidential election, Bryan’s message holds special importance.

By the end of Just Mercy, I felt like I had become friends with the author. Bryan’s writing is personal and inviting. He passionately exposes systematic racism and prejudice with immense grace and understanding. His ability to see people beyond their current life situation is inspiring. There were moments of humor and hope in his writing that gave meaning and purpose to the weight of his work.

The Not So Good

To be honest, I got nothing…

I really loved this book. I read it slowly to truly take in and process all the wisdom in each chapter. We live in a world that has no regard for truth and little time for compassion. Just Mercy not only recognizes this reality, but it encourages the reader to do something about it.  I am happy to give this book a resounding 5/5!

This book review was originally posted on www.bornhooligan.wordpress.com. Check it out for more reviews and bookish thoughts. 

Published by Born-Again Hooligan