Published May 16, 2017 By Flatiron Books
Before Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich begins a summer job at a law firm in Louisiana, working to help defend men accused of murder, she thinks her position is clear. The child of two lawyers, she is staunchly anti-death penalty. But the moment convicted murderer Ricky Langley’s face flashes on the screen as she reviews old tapes―the moment she hears him speak of his crimes―she is overcome with the feeling of wanting him to die. Shocked by her reaction, she digs deeper and deeper into the case. Despite their vastly different circumstances, something in his story is unsettlingly, uncannily familiar.
Crime, even the darkest and most unsayable acts, can happen to any one of us. As Alexandria pores over the facts of the murder, she finds herself thrust into the complicated narrative of Ricky’s childhood. And by examining the details of Ricky’s case, she is forced to face her own story, to unearth long-buried family secrets, and reckon with a past that colors her view of Ricky’s crime.
But another surprise awaits: She wasn’t the only one who saw her life in Ricky’s.
I’ve read several true crime books in the last couple years and they all seem to have one thing in common for me…they’ve brought me to tears and infiltrated my thoughts in such a way that I couldn’t stop thinking about the people in the stories. This true crime/memoir has been no different. I like to read while on the elliptical and there was a point in my reading where I just had to take a break from this story and switch to a different one. The author’s writing was beautiful and lyrical in a way that I was so fully engaged with the story that when the brutal details of little Jeremy’s murder and then the author’s own heartbreaking story came front and center, it really hit me in a way I wasn’t expecting…hence the needed break.
Once composed, I dived back in because while at times brutal to read, this story is also fascinating, haunting, and illuminating. The author doesn’t just haphazardly toss out details of Jeremy’s murder and Ricky Langley’s life and then switch to her own story. Rather, she weaves the narrative by alternating timelines involving Rickey’s past and her own. While at times the shift between the two was abrupt and sometimes felt that it occurred mid-thought, overall this narrative technique worked very well to tell two separate stories. Let me back up for a minute and tell you what I mean by illuminating and fascinating. I found the author’s discussion of the law in terms of the intricacies of what it means to seek truth and justice, the breakdown of the system (Ricky Langley had 3 trials!), and the inherent problems associated with having shades of gray in a legal system that’s set up to be black and white. In addition, the author examines the very real breakdown of the family and criminal justice system in such a brilliant, “what if” way that, days later, I’m still thinking about…what if Ricky had a different type of childhood...what if that person at the hospital would’ve believed Ricky when he walked in and said he needed help…what if we had harsher sentences for sex offenders like Ricky…what if the author’s own childhood was different…what if her childhood wasn’t shrouded in secrets…what if children’s voices were better heard in their own family as well as our justice system?? Of course, we’ll never know the answers to these “what ifs” and that’s what’s so haunting.
This isn’t an easy read by any means and I would guess some readers may not be able to read about the graphic details of murder and abuse. BUT, this is an important story and one that I’m sure many may see themselves in and will benefit from Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich’s honesty.
Many thanks to Flatiron Books for my copy. I’m happy to provide an honest review