Stand Your Ground, by Victoria Christopher Murray

Stand Your GroundAs soon as I saw this book in the catalog, I knew I was going to read it, because a) I need diverse books and b) I live in Florida, where standing your ground is basically the state sport.

This fictional ground-standing takes place in Pennsylvania, but it is reminiscent of the Trayvon Martin shooting that happened here in Florida a couple years ago. A black high-school boy, Marquis, is sitting in a car with his white girlfriend outside of a white dude’s house. White dude comes out to the car all, this guy troubling you, little lady?, stuff happens, and then Marquis is shot dead by white dude, who claims he was threatened and just standing his ground.

But we don’t get all of that right away. What we get first is the story of Marquis’s mother, Janice, who is getting back into the swing of family life after a huge bump in her marriage. Things look like they’re going well until the police show up, wondering if her son might possibly be in a gang and perhaps carry a baseball bat around, oh, also, btw, he’s dead. Janice wants to curl up in a ball and die, basically, but her husband and her “Brown Guardians”-member brother-in-law are ready to get some old-school revenge. Janice’s half of the story is all about finding closure after something awful has happened, and how to find closure when it seems like every person in the world has an opinion about not just that something awful but about you and your son and your family.

Then in the second half of the novel, we flip to the story of white dude’s wife, Meredith, who is having a slightly different experience. Meredith lives in comfortable wealth as the wife of a local fast-food millionaire, a millionaire who has done great philanthropic work in the black community but is still almost giddy about how easily his lawyer is going to get him acquitted of the murder of this particular black kid. Worse, Meredith has a secret that she wants to share, but doing so would ruin her marriage, which isn’t great, exactly, but is better than the alternative, and she’s not sure she can muster up the courage to destroy her own family after her husband has destroyed another.

I wasn’t sure about this book at first, as the first chapter has a sort of chick-lit feel that I tend to dislike, but as soon as the story started moving I really couldn’t put it down. It was fascinating to see how the two very similar narrators — wife, mother, background player, worrier — handled both sides of an awful situation and to have them only guessing at the reasons behind it. Even with the narrative focused on these two ladies, you still get to see the opinions and emotions of the other characters, which differ wildly just as they should. The murderer himself seemed a bit of a caricature when he first appeared, but even he turned out to have complex emotions by the end of the book.

I’m so glad I gave this book the chance it deserved, and I think it’s a great read for anyone who wants to understand a new viewpoint or two (or more!) in our current cultural climate.

Recommendation: For you.

Rating: 8/10

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