"[Blake's] legal background and her insights yield a thought-provoking consideration of the limits of our criminal justice system." The New Yorker (Briefly Noted)
"A brutally tragic but mesmerizing read about morality and justice." Sloane Crosley, Departures
"A sobering meditation on what justice and mercy look like and who gets it and who doesn’t." Tomi Obaro, Buzzfeed
"[A] deeply thoughtful meditation on trauma, justice, and heartbreak . . . Blake’s incisive prose smoothly moves from one complexity to another, finding hope and humanity in the darkness." Vanessa Willoughby, LitHub
"Blake ruminates on the nature of heartbreak, forgiveness, family, justice, mercy, and redemption ... Her spare and often gorgeous prose is enriched by frequent quotations from Sumerian proverbs, Saint Augustine, the King James Bible, C. S. Lewis, and James Baldwin, among many others." American Scholar
"Blake engages with writers like Maggie Nelson and Lauren Groff on “inherited trauma as a ‘silent wind,’” as she grapples with questions of justice, especially involving juvenile offenders in prison for life without parole. Blake’s discursive style and inquisitive mind propel this taut, shapely, moving narrative." National Book Review
"The writing is beautiful and the insights are weighty; [The Uninnocent] provokes a real interrogation into innocence and guilt, justice and mercy, pain and healing, violence and its conditions." Arianna Rebolini, Reading Habits
"An intimate and deeply moving meditation on trauma, healing, hope, and the criminal justice system . . . Crystalline prose, incisive inquiries into complex moral and legal matters, and candid reflections on the pain of losing hope make this a must-read." Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"A wise and moving reflection on some of the most vexing aspects of the American criminal justice system . . . Blake is an evocative writer . . . Despite its brevity, The Uninnocent invites readers to ponder some large and difficult questions." Shelf Awareness
"Blake is a keen researcher and sharp in her academic assessment of how the criminal justice system handles the young, but it's her ability to blend that report into a shockingly poignant memoir that makes this book a must-read." Booklist
"The Uninnocent is so elegantly crafted that the pleasure of reading it nearly overrides its devastating subject matter. Blake is an investigator of heartbreak, turning a critical eye on the ways our systems have failed us, and how we fail each other. Through that investigation Blake creates a story of radical empathy, a triumph of care and forgiveness." Stephanie Danler, author of Stray and Sweetbitter
"The Uninnocent is the riveting and profound story of a woman whose teenage cousin killed a little boy, and yet it is so much more. Katharine Blake has created a brilliant weave of the deeply personal, the intricately legal, an erudite and deeply moving deep dive into families and prisons and mercy, tragedy and love, the law, loss, the sad and beautiful human heart." Anne Lamott, author of Almost Everything: Notes on Hope
"'The truth changes,' Katharine Blake’s teenage cousin told a courtroom, before he was sentenced to life without parole. This sprawling essay makes me think of the fourth step in AA, the searching and fearless moral inventory. It’s an inquiry—inquiry as action—into justice, forgiveness, the nature of evil, fear and anger, luck. It’s a plea to grant mercy on the people our systems fail and betray—'no room for them down such a narrow way.' The Uninnocent is thoughtful, emotional work, and very moving." Elisa Gabbert, author of The Unreality of Memory
"In The Uninnocent, Katharine Blake takes on an enormous task: approaching a horrific, senseless act of violence with the acuity and rigor of a lawyer, and the compassion and sorrow of someone who loves the perpetrator. From this tension, she writes toward a deeper, more honest understanding of mercy, justice, culpability, and love. It is a searching, open-hearted work, vast in its implications and tender in its execution." Jordan Kisner, author of Thin Places: Essays from In Between
Blake (Center for Justice Reform, Vermont Law Sch.) explores the experience of heartbreak in its many forms in this mix of memoir and creative nonfiction. Blake was a law student at Stanford University when her teenaged cousin murdered a young boy. Her cousin, who lives with mental illness, was diagnosed as having a psychotic break and was ultimately sentenced to life in prison. Feeling surrounded by tragedies, Blake began collecting poems, quotations, clinical studies, and various other sources dealing with the subject of heartbreak. She draws upon this collection of materials, plus her understanding of the justice system, to process her family history, her personal life and experiences, her cousin, and American society at large. She describes the personal challenge of forming a relationship with her cousin and eventually facing her fears to visit him in prison. This introspective book covers some disturbing and unsettling ground, yet appropriately so because of the subject matter. Readers looking to explore the ideas of mercy and forgiveness will be given plenty to think about. VERDICT Those experiencing their own forms of heartbreak won't find advice, but instead may find some comfort and understanding in Blake's elegant, sympathetic reflections.—Anitra Gates, Erie Cty. P.L., PA
A meditation on crime, punishment, and heartache.
Blake began her legal career working for the Children’s Defense Fund in Washington, D.C. The work was depressing, and after Sandy Hook and the subsequent defeat of gun-control measures in Congress, she “lost hope.” A couple of years earlier, a 16-year-old cousin of hers suffered a psychotic episode and savagely killed a young boy, a horrific act that received little publicity because of the explosion of the BP Deepwater Horizon. “When the worst happens, the notion of luck takes on strange significance. What’s lucky when your son murders another mother’s son? That there is oil spilling into the ocean,” she writes. The best part of Blake’s book explores the trajectory of the crime, subsequent trial, and imprisonment of her cousin, who has been spending his life behind bars incessantly reading and teaching Bible classes while wrestling with his crime. Meaningfully, after reading Crime and Punishment, he described his crime by saying that he “took Ryan’s choices away.” Were the memoir to stick to this story, it would have been more effective, for much of it is given over to hit-or-miss meditations on heartbreak, lost love, and the like, with references to and quotations from a canon ranging from Ice Age cave paintings to the socially conscious journalism of Rebecca Solnit. Sometimes these musings are weighty (“Complicated grief is complicated because it doesn’t change shape or size; it stays unlivable”), sometimes mere soufflés: “Heartbreak’s popularity in times of great taking reveals the essence of a broken heart—what it is to have and then not have.” One wishes the author had directed her energies to the crime and how it played out; in those sections, her writing shines.
A mixed bag of longueurs and profundities that should prove useful to students of the judicial system.