Review of Cries Unheard: The Story of Mary Bell by Gitta Sereny … and a bit of a rant!
I’ve been interested in youth crime and justice since I did an elective in it at uni (14 years ago 😩), so this was a fascinating read. It takes us from 1957 when Mary was born, to 1996 (not in chronological order, but the order Mary felt able to process what had happened), and includes reflections from Mary, plus insights from many people who were involved with Mary at the time.
If you haven’t heard of Mary Bell, in 1968 as a 10 and then 11 year old girl, she killed two young children (the first was 4 years old, the second was 3). She was tried as an adult in a public court with her name and picture released, without really understanding what was going on or the public interest in the case. As a 10/11 year old she didn’t understand the finality of death, and it wasn’t until she was much older (and when she became a mother herself) that she understood what she had done and the consequences of that, for herself but also for the boys and their families. Unsurprisingly Mary was abused (I won’t go into details in case you want to read the book) as a young child, and whilst of course this doesn’t excuse what she did, nothing does, it helps us to understand why a child might hurt/kill another child.
The book goes through the investigation, the trial, Mary’s imprisonment in various institutions, her release, her accounts of the killings and then life beyond prison. It all happened well before I was born (my parents would have been 7/8 when the killings took place), so although I have heard of Mary Bell through my general interest in youth justice, I read the book mostly with fresh eyes, rather than knowledge of what happened. It is very well written, and Gitta Sereny does an incredible job of building trust and friendship with Mary, and writing her story.
Gitta Sereny had an important reason to write the book – to try and change the system. But nearly 53 years later, whilst some things have changed slightly, in serious cases such as murder, we are still trying children as adults, and releasing their names and photos, only to later pass legal judgements that these children should be protected (rightly so in my opinion) and given new identities upon release. Sereny makes an important statement in the book that children are not miniature adults. So why when it comes to crime do we treat them as such? And why does the system not allow exploration into why these things have taken place?
The picture above shows the ages of criminal responsibility in various countries, with the lowest being 8 in Scotland and 10 in England, and the highest being 16 in Belgium. Countries with higher ages of criminal responsibility protect, care for and give treatment to children who commit ‘crimes’. It’s such a stark and shocking difference!! Being made criminally responsible at the age of 10 in England also breaches our obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, who decided the global minimum age at which a child can be prosecuted should be 14.
Despite being urged to raise the minimum age by at least 2 years, to 12 years of age, the government say they have no plans to raise the age of criminal responsibility. They argue that this allows for early intervention, however in the last decade funding for early intervention children’s services has been cut by almost two thirds, from £2.8 to £1.1 billion. Something doesn’t match up!
If your interested in the current system, there is a good (and Emmy Award winning!) drama on BBC iPlayer called Responsible Child, which is based on the real life case of 14 year old Jerome Ellis and his older brother, Joshua, 23, who killed their stepdad in 2014. Definitely worth a watch!
Currently reading – The Beast of Buckingham Palace by David Walliams
I’ve just finished my 10th book for 2021, so rather than do full reviews of all of them I thought I’d get into the swing of things with a short review on books 1 – 9, and then kick off properly with a more in depth review of book 10. Otherwise I’ll forever be weeks behind and I’ll probably lose the will!
I started 2021 off with Cilka’s journey, by Heather Morris. This is a sequel to The Tattooist of Auschwitz, which told the true story of Lale Sokolov and Gita. Cilka was Gita’s best friend in the camp, but she had died before the story was written so whilst it is based on what was known about her, a lot is fictional. Nevertheless it was a book I couldn’t put down! Heather Morris is able to portray the horrors of Auschwitz and of the Vorkuta gulag in Siberia, where Cilka was sent after Auschwitz, incredibly well. I didn’t know that for some prisoners, hell continued after Auschwitz so this was eye opening. 5 out of 5!
I absolutely loved this book! It’s modern fiction, about Amy who is obsessed with settling down, getting married and starting a family, because that’s what all her friends are doing. And then she gets dumped live on tv, on a new reality programme called The Shelf! It was an easy read and had me hooked, just as reality tv does! The characters have to complete ridiculous chauvinist tasks, but through them they learn about themselves and what they really want in life. It was funny and thought provoking, and a real page turner. Another 5 out of 5!
Full Metal Cardigan is a must read for anyone who has worked in social care, particularly with people with learning disabilities or mental health difficulties. It was a hilarious, and at times toe curling read, with real life situations that many with experience in the field will have seen! I can’t recommend it enough!! 5/5
Such A Fun Age is another modern fiction book, about a young black woman called Emira who is wrongly accused of kidnapping while babysitting a white child, and the events that follow this. It’s based in the USA and touches on Emira needing to find an employer that will give her medical insurance when she comes off her parents plan at 21, which was something I didn’t know about, and found interesting as a side story! The story focuses on some really important aspects of race and racism and I think it’s an important read. It took me a little while to get into, but a few chapters in I was glued! 5/5
THIS WAS SUCH A GOOD BOOK!!!! Probably my favourite of the year so far. Ruth Jones is a brilliant script writer so it makes perfect sense that she’d be a brilliant author. Us Three is all about the friendships between Lana, Judith and Catrin, from child to adulthood, and everything that happens on the way. Each chapter is from the perspective of one of the girls and it keeps things moving nicely. There were moments when I laughed and moments that made me gasp. I had to keep putting the book down because I didn’t want it to end! And I definitely hugged the book when I’d finished. So good!! 5/5 and more!!
I wanted to read the His Dark Materials trilogy after watching the first series of the tv programme on the BBC. The trilogy tells the story of Lyra and her quest to find out what dust is, and why it’s so important. She meets lots of friends (human and otherwise) along the way, and what you might expect to be ‘good’ and ‘evil’ is certainly challenged. This is technically a children’s book, but it’s a quite a complex read! I found the first book, Northern Lights more difficult to get into, perhaps because I knew what was coming from the tv series. I was keen to move onto The Subtle Knife, and from there I was much more gripped! Philip Pullman has since written a further trilogy called The Book of Dust, which expands on His Dark Materials, and is on my wish list! Another 5/5!
Finally, book 9 – The Silent Twins. This is an older book (published in 1986) and a true story, about identical twins June and Jennifer Gibbons who didn’t communicate with anyone other than each other, and created a strange and secret world. They were initially consumed with not being seen, leading them to do things like move and eat incredibly slowly (probably actually drawing more attention to themselves!), but later wanted to be noticed by boys in particular. Their inability to communicate with others sadly led to them being imprisoned in Broadmoor, for crimes that didn’t deserve it, with some notorious criminals and murderers! This wasn’t the best written book (probably due to when it was written), but it was fascinating and showed a real insight into the thoughts of the twins, from the huge amount of journals they kept and stories they wrote. 4/5
Welcome to my blog – what Lou reads and more! This is a completely new venture for me and inspired by my very good friend Vicky who said she’d read it (at least that’s one reader, right?!).
I grew up in a reading family and have always loved reading, but the older I got the more I’ve drifted away from it, filling my time with other things (endless scrolling and Netflix), and only reading a few books a year. I started to read more again towards the end of 2020, and set myself a goal of reading 12 books in 2021, in comparison to the 8 I read in 2020. I’m already on book 10, so I’ll be setting a new target once I’ve reached the 12!
Something that I’ve not talked about with many people is the anxiety I started to feel at the end of 2020, and the relief that reading has provided from that. The anxiety was robbing me of peaceful evenings, instead of relaxing I was overwhelmed and overthinking, and then I realised that when I was reading I wasn’t anxious. That realisation has transformed the last few months for me, I’m experiencing less anxiety and I’m thoroughly enjoying entering different worlds, lifestyles, ideas, eras and more, through books! So why not write about it too?
My plan here is to review books, write about books, keep a diary of what I read and how books makes me feel, but also to touch on other things I enjoy or things going on in the world (hello world wide pandemic!). I’m just going to see how things go and what I enjoy writing about, I’d love you to join me for the ride!