Four reasons I don’t like Just Mercy

Oct 15, 2019 | Opinion


his year for summer reading, the 10th, 11th, and 12th grades were assigned to read Just Mercy by lawyer Bryan Stevenson. The book explores the issues with the American criminal justice system through the lens of various cases that the author has worked on over the course of his career. However, despite its  powerful message and clearly knowledgeable author, the book does not make a compelling required summer reading text for more than a couple reasons.

Firstly, the book explains the many different flaws in the legal system that Stevenson has encountered over his career, which means that the book is trying to tackle a lot of different themes in a relatively short text while remaining accessible to a general audience.

This need to cover so much ground leads to the text trying to get through as much information as possible, and sometimes relying on jargon and references to various legal cases and practices that go over the head of a casual reader in order to do so. As it was a summer reading text and thus assigned to many students with a variety of interests there were some that were not able to fully understand the text due to its legal jargon and failure to provide sufficient context. 

Secondly, the way that the book is structured makes it difficult for the book to be read over the course of a summer. Stevenson switches back and forth between describing the various groups victimized by the legal system and the story Walter McMillian, a wrongly accused man who was placed on death row. This framing of the story could lead to a disjointed read if a 

Despite having a powerful message and a clearly knowledgeable author, the book does not make a compelling required summer reading text.

Gabi Brown '21

student were to decide to read the book spread across the summer instead of reading the entire thing within a short period of time. 

By stretching out the story throughout the summer, the student risks losing the thread of the McMillian case due to Stevenson’s frequent digressions.

Thirdly, one of the main themes of the text was the racial bias present in both the criminal justice system as a whole and death row. However, most of the big points that the text makes for attempted shock value and were also covered the the documentary “13th,” which all students watched and discussed last year. Because the text tries to use these facts for impact or to gain additional engagement from the readers, it could leave some students feeling as though they already knew what Stevenson was trying to teach them, making the book a redundant


Lastly, the book does not tie into curriculum. The main point of summer homework ought to be to give students work that will tie into what they do once they get back to school. In fact, it is homework, for the school year, to be done over the course of summer break. Unfortunately, like the previous summer readings, the exploration has been limited to a small discussion or throwaway references, leading students to feel as though their time could have been better spent.

None of these things make it a bad book, and in fact I would not hesitate to recommend it to someone who is interested in the American legal system and civil rights. However, these points add up to it not being a productive, enjoyable summer read.