January 05 , 2010

Just Mercy

A Novel


Bernadette Baker lives through every mother's worst nightmare when her adopted sixteen-year-old daughter, Veronica, is brutally murdered in a shocking and random act of violence. Ten years later the murderer, Raelynn Blackwell, is facing execution for her crime, and despite being united in their grief over Veronica, the Baker family is deeply divided on the subject of the death penalty. On one side is Veronica's deeply spiritual and sensitive brother who believes that the death penalty is the last thing his baby sister would have wanted. On the opposite side is their tough-as-nails older sister who vehemently believes that death is the only way justice will be served. In the center is Bernadette, who is deeply ambivalent and longs for a resolution that will help her family move forward. After Raelynn receives a last-minute stay of execution, a secret is revealed that changes everything and leads to an unlikely bond between Raelynn and Bernadette. Just Mercy is a heart-wrenching and ultimately redemptive family drama of forgiveness, destiny, and the true nature of justice. "This family drama is a must-read that teaches us about the true nature of justice and our very humanity." -Sr. Helen Prejean, C.S.J., author of Dead Man Walking "A stunning achievement...surprising twists and turns as a family, shattered by the heinous killing of their youngest member, must come to terms with life-altering truths." -Hal Zina Bennett, author of bestseller Write From the Heart “A thought-provoking novel about the full implications of the death penalty by Van Soest (Diversity Education for Social Justice: Mastering Teaching Skills, 2008), a retired professor and social worker who has written extensively on social justice issues. On a spring night in 2001, teenager Veronica Baker is stabbed to death at an Austin, Texas, bus stop by a drug-crazed woman. Ten years later, Veronica's murderer, Raelynn Blackwell, is scheduled for execution. Veronica's death, as well as family members' differing opinions about justice for her killer, tears her family apart. Veronica's adoptive mother, Bernadette Baker, experiences a change of heart after meeting her daughter's killer, and her husband, Marty, a philosophy professor who seems too good to be true, supports his wife in her obsession with Veronica's killer, even as he suffers a health crisis. But Veronica's sister, Annamaria Baker, a strident, bitter attorney, wants Raelynn dead. She believes Raelynn and her attorney are playing the system. Meanwhile, Fin, Veronica's brother, unequivocally opposes the death penalty, even for his own sister's killer. When Raelynn is spared execution, Bernadette redoubles her efforts to help Raelynn find peace, although it means antagonizing Annamaria, neglecting Marty and uncovering a shocking revelation. Van Soest's stated purpose for trying her hand at fiction is her "growing conviction that people become empowered to work for personal and social change, not through objective data and studies, but through personal connections that lead them to care enough to take action." Raelynn and her neglectful, alcoholic mother, Maxine, emerge as surprisingly sympathetic characters. However, Bernadette's determination to help Raelynn find peace when her own husband's health is in doubt makes her less likable. Complex characters populate this well-considered take on capital punishment.” - Kirkus Reviews
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