In 1968: an eleven year old girl named Mary Bell killed two boys (ages 3 and 4). The courts tried her, found her guilty, put her in jail until she was in her 20's. This book revisits her case years after she was released from jail and tries to figure out why she did it, what her life was like before she committed this crime, and whether she really understood the gravity of what she did at the time. I don't want to give any of it away, but I was so engrossed that I wanted to read the whole thing in one sitting... I couldn't only because it was so overwhelming: at times so depressing, at other times funny and even joyful. I had to take breathers because it was so intense.
I really felt for Mary Bell and totally rooted for her the whole time. The author does a good job of bringing out the various threads of the story. She's compassionate and understanding, but also she makes it clear that none of this is an excuse for the crime itself. She makes the case that when a child commits a horrible crime like this, the court's job is not only to say whether she was guilty of the crime or not, but also to ask why a child would do this? And to help the child psychologically with their problems. A child does not commit a crime like this because they are evil. It is usually a sign of some disturbing realities at home. To ignore this is to make the problem worse.
I found that Mary Bell was (predictably) messed up, but what surprised me was how strong she was as well, and how positively she looked at life despite everything that happened to her. This was a wonderful read.