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The Uninnocent: Notes on Violence and Mercy

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A harrowing intellectual reckoning with crime, mercy, justice and heartbreak through the lens of a murder On a Thursday morning in June 2010, Katharine Blake's sixteen-year-old cousin walked to a nearby bike path with a boxcutter, and killed a young boy he didn't know. It was a psychological break that tore through his brain, and into the hearts of those who loved both boys A harrowing intellectual reckoning with crime, mercy, justice and heartbreak through the lens of a murder On a Thursday morning in June 2010, Katharine Blake's sixteen-year-old cousin walked to a nearby bike path with a boxcutter, and killed a young boy he didn't know. It was a psychological break that tore through his brain, and into the hearts of those who loved both boys--one brutally killed, the other sentenced to die at Angola, one of the country's most notorious prisons. In The Uninnocent, Blake, a law student at Stanford at the time of the crime, wrestles with the implications of her cousin's break, as well as the broken machinations of America's justice system. As her cousin languished in a cell on death row, where he was assigned for his own protection, Blake struggled to keep her faith in the system she was training to join. Consumed with understanding her family's new reality, Blake became obsessed with heartbreak, seeing it everywhere: in her cousin's isolation, in the loss at the center of the crime, in the students she taught at various prisons, in the way our justice system breaks rather than mends, in the history of her parents and their violent childhoods. As she delves into a history of heartbreak--through science, medicine, and literature--and chronicles the uneasy yet ultimately tender bond she forms with her cousin, Blake asks probing questions about justice, faith, inheritance, family, and, most of all, mercy. Sensitive, singular, and powerful, effortlessly bridging memoir, essay, and legalese, The Uninnocent is a reckoning with the unimaginable, unforgettable, and seemly irredeemable. With curiosity and vulnerability, Blake unravels a distressed tapestry, finding solace in both its tearing and its mending.


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A harrowing intellectual reckoning with crime, mercy, justice and heartbreak through the lens of a murder On a Thursday morning in June 2010, Katharine Blake's sixteen-year-old cousin walked to a nearby bike path with a boxcutter, and killed a young boy he didn't know. It was a psychological break that tore through his brain, and into the hearts of those who loved both boys A harrowing intellectual reckoning with crime, mercy, justice and heartbreak through the lens of a murder On a Thursday morning in June 2010, Katharine Blake's sixteen-year-old cousin walked to a nearby bike path with a boxcutter, and killed a young boy he didn't know. It was a psychological break that tore through his brain, and into the hearts of those who loved both boys--one brutally killed, the other sentenced to die at Angola, one of the country's most notorious prisons. In The Uninnocent, Blake, a law student at Stanford at the time of the crime, wrestles with the implications of her cousin's break, as well as the broken machinations of America's justice system. As her cousin languished in a cell on death row, where he was assigned for his own protection, Blake struggled to keep her faith in the system she was training to join. Consumed with understanding her family's new reality, Blake became obsessed with heartbreak, seeing it everywhere: in her cousin's isolation, in the loss at the center of the crime, in the students she taught at various prisons, in the way our justice system breaks rather than mends, in the history of her parents and their violent childhoods. As she delves into a history of heartbreak--through science, medicine, and literature--and chronicles the uneasy yet ultimately tender bond she forms with her cousin, Blake asks probing questions about justice, faith, inheritance, family, and, most of all, mercy. Sensitive, singular, and powerful, effortlessly bridging memoir, essay, and legalese, The Uninnocent is a reckoning with the unimaginable, unforgettable, and seemly irredeemable. With curiosity and vulnerability, Blake unravels a distressed tapestry, finding solace in both its tearing and its mending.

30 review for The Uninnocent: Notes on Violence and Mercy

  1. 4 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    3.5 The author was in law school when she learns her sixteen year old cousin has randomly killed a nine year old boy. Since she was so much older she didn't really know nor have a relationship with her cousin, but she did know he was a honor student. So how did he go from that to being a murderer? She explores the concept of justice, punishment for youth offenders, the different permutations of heartbreak, mental illness and rehabilitation. Do youth offenders deserve life in prison, despite all 3.5 The author was in law school when she learns her sixteen year old cousin has randomly killed a nine year old boy. Since she was so much older she didn't really know nor have a relationship with her cousin, but she did know he was a honor student. So how did he go from that to being a murderer? She explores the concept of justice, punishment for youth offenders, the different permutations of heartbreak, mental illness and rehabilitation. Do youth offenders deserve life in prison, despite all the studies on brain development? Death sentences for youth offenders? She strives to understand, and though for the longest time she doesn't go to the prison to see her cousin, she does send him books. She discusses the Supreme court rulings formed by Roper, Graham, Miller and Montgomery, rulings that might be moving towards something new for youth offenders. Though they aren't implicitly clear and depends on their interpretation by judges. This book makes one think, question their own views on justice and the implementation of long sentences on youth offenders. Are these throwaway kids, incorrigible, unable to be rehabilitated?

  2. 5 out of 5

    Erik

    Katharine Blake's The Uninnocent is a winding reflection on mercy, justice, and love. Blake was a first-year law student at Stanford Law when her teenaged, second cousin stunned her entire family when he killed a 9-year-old boy riding bikes with his mother. Despite being 16, Blake's cousin, Scott, was tried as an adult and sentenced to life in Angola Prison without parole. Blake began reflecting on her own sterile encounters with the law during law school and slowly began to reflect on what it me Katharine Blake's The Uninnocent is a winding reflection on mercy, justice, and love. Blake was a first-year law student at Stanford Law when her teenaged, second cousin stunned her entire family when he killed a 9-year-old boy riding bikes with his mother. Despite being 16, Blake's cousin, Scott, was tried as an adult and sentenced to life in Angola Prison without parole. Blake began reflecting on her own sterile encounters with the law during law school and slowly began to reflect on what it means to show mercy - and to do justice - when someone is not innocent but is still a human, deserving of mercy. As she balances an understanding for how to show justice and mercy to both victim and perpetrators, Blake comes to a deeper understanding of heartbreak and repair: making. At times The Uninnocent seems to veer off track with portions that while nice to read and interesting seem disconnected from the broader project of the book. And the book is, afterall, what would happen if Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts and Bryan Stephenson's Just Mercy had a baby and that baby went on to advocate not for legal or policy changes (although it does this too) but for a change in the way we see ourselves, each other, and the love between us.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Schulman

    I wrote a novel, THE CHILD, about a sixteen year old young man who murders a nine year old boy. It was based on a real case, and in fact the actual person was named Scott. My novel was about the question Blake raises and sticks to, "Why?" Her focus is diagnosis - the mysteries of mental illness, and I was interested in her earned information that a "psychotic break" is an expression of fear. But she never goes to the questions that I felt compelled to explore: The Family and sexuality, and she bar I wrote a novel, THE CHILD, about a sixteen year old young man who murders a nine year old boy. It was based on a real case, and in fact the actual person was named Scott. My novel was about the question Blake raises and sticks to, "Why?" Her focus is diagnosis - the mysteries of mental illness, and I was interested in her earned information that a "psychotic break" is an expression of fear. But she never goes to the questions that I felt compelled to explore: The Family and sexuality, and she barely examines the political questions of race and gender. In her cousin's statement to the court he tells the world that he was very very troubled for a very long time. What was really going on in his family, really - and at school and in the neighborhood and why did no one intervene? His troubles were produced perhaps by biology in part and perhaps by emotional experience perhaps. There is a social and personal pain that is produced when we (institutions and individuals) do not intervene with families. -I wish Blake had faced these questions of intervention with depth. Also, she doesn't really explore sexuality- about homosexuality or even pedophilic feelings. Regarding the political question of race that she mentions in spots by referencing Bryan Stevenson and Dylan Roof, she needed to do a lot more work on this. Why are these killers white? Why do white males deal with pain in this external way that women and people of color do not? I think that the question of punishment is routed in the wishes of the victims- and that is clearly true in her cousin's case. But there exist victims who do not want to extend the pain. There are people who want to befriend the person who killed their mother. Why do victims insist on these kinds of punishments? That would have been an important avenue for her to examine. Rory Kennedy (who ironically just spoke out against parole for the 77 year old killer of her father) made a 2002 film The Killing of Wanda Jean about a Black woman who fought to save her daughter's killer from capital punishment because her Christianity made her oppose death penalty. The solution is really in the hands of the victims, and how they understand themselves. She could have done so much more here. The other unexplored element is Scott himself. His life. What is it? He remains an enigma. I know it is important for people to tell their stories, and it may be helpful for someone to think about this question of untreated mental illness and how we as a society should respond to people who kill out of unjustified fear. And I wish the book had explored that class of people with breath and depth, to help us see it societally.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    Genre: Nonfiction, memoir Brief synopsis: When Katharine Blake was a law student, her teenage cousin suffered a psychotic break and killed a young boy. This memoir reckons with the crime and the criminal justice system as a whole, along with a discussion of heartbreak. “That was the feeling I often had that fall as I hustled around the periphery of these stories and settings, these concepts on a syllabus that were, for Scott, the facts of his life.” This is a beautifully heartbreaking memoir on fa Genre: Nonfiction, memoir Brief synopsis: When Katharine Blake was a law student, her teenage cousin suffered a psychotic break and killed a young boy. This memoir reckons with the crime and the criminal justice system as a whole, along with a discussion of heartbreak. “That was the feeling I often had that fall as I hustled around the periphery of these stories and settings, these concepts on a syllabus that were, for Scott, the facts of his life.” This is a beautifully heartbreaking memoir on family, grief, and criminal law/justice; a perfect read for Nonfiction November Thank you to FSG Books & FSG Originals for gifting me this arc, it is out now! What I liked: ⚖️ Great writing ⚖️ Learning about her experience in law school and various careers/internships ⚖️ Learned a lot more about criminal law/justice, juvenile justice, prisoner’s rights ⚖️ Amazing honesty, especially appreciated learning more about her family and their experiences What I didn’t like: ⚖️ Organization- separated into 4 parts but no chapters within (this is an arc and might change) ⚖️ A bit slow and less impactful at times in the beginning and middle (but the end was SO powerful, just wish it was like that more throughout) ⚖️ Flow a little disjointed/disrupted switching from her family’s story to a discussion of heartbreak As a law student interested in criminal law, I geeked out when she discussed cases I’ve learned in class. Some of what Scott experienced truly blew my mind. This is an especially important read for those interested in criminal law/justice, juvenile law/justice, mental health (law), prisoner’s rights, and family relations. “Reading was always the way I found sense and beauty in a world that made no sense. Books were reliable when people weren’t.” ⚠️: Mental illness, violence, substance/alcohol abuse, suicide, domestic violence, child abuse, guns

  5. 4 out of 5

    J Earl

    The Uninnocent: Notes on Violence and Mercy by Katharine Blake offers a wide-ranging examination of our society through the focal point of one crime. This crime, murder, happened to have been committed by Blake's young cousin, so this portrait is both intimate and societal in its approach. I think each reader will have different takeaways from this book, which I believe is a good thing. How close the reader has ever been to a similar situation, the specific areas of interest for a reader of this The Uninnocent: Notes on Violence and Mercy by Katharine Blake offers a wide-ranging examination of our society through the focal point of one crime. This crime, murder, happened to have been committed by Blake's young cousin, so this portrait is both intimate and societal in its approach. I think each reader will have different takeaways from this book, which I believe is a good thing. How close the reader has ever been to a similar situation, the specific areas of interest for a reader of this type of book (legal concepts, mental health, grieving the loss of a child (by death or prison), ethics, and where all of these things can come together in the form of public policy. In the process of asking and even answering so many questions Blake raises so many more, mostly about what we can do to make our world, our society, better for more people. Is that her primary goal here? I don't think so but I also think she wants to engage as wide a swath of the public as possible so she examines everything with the knowledge that most of the answers will be partial answers at best. Yet that can serve as a starting point for others who might have ideas on improving society. The other way I read this book, aside from my normal tendency to wonder what we could do better, was as a person's, and by extension a family's, journey through such a traumatic experience. So many times I tried to imagine how I would have felt or what I might have done. But with only a few exceptions I was stymied because our response to most things are filtered through different ways of engaging. What is legally "right?" What does my moral or ethical belief system say? What is my initial gut feeling? And how, as I travel through the various stages I would pass through, are these systems of thought altered by my mental and emotional state? These are questions I came away pondering. Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Carin

    The author was in DC, interning at the Children’s Legal Defense Fund on summer break from law school, when her mother called with devastating news: Ms. Blake’s cousin had murdered a child. The child was a stranger–riding a bike on a greenway ahead of his mother. Her mother asked if she’d contribute as the family was raising money for the cousin’s defense, and her immediate reaction was No! He should go to prison! Her mother was very offended, after all, this is FAMILY. And it was family. And she The author was in DC, interning at the Children’s Legal Defense Fund on summer break from law school, when her mother called with devastating news: Ms. Blake’s cousin had murdered a child. The child was a stranger–riding a bike on a greenway ahead of his mother. Her mother asked if she’d contribute as the family was raising money for the cousin’s defense, and her immediate reaction was No! He should go to prison! Her mother was very offended, after all, this is FAMILY. And it was family. And she reached out to her cousin. And she found out about the case. And she researched how children (her cousin was 16 at the time) are tried as adult and how and why what came to be. She also researched cases involving mental breaks and how that is factored in. It seems like her cousin had a temporary psychotic episode, and otherwise is not psychotic. She empathizes with the family of the victim. And she also keeps in touch with her cousin through his trial and prison term. In law school, she struggles with the law, and luckily Bryan Stevenson speaks to her class and she’s able to ask him questions about her issues. This is not at all what I would consider a true crime book, although it is about a crime, and it’s true. This is a book of philosophy, legal issues, psychological concerns, family dynamics, morality, and ethics. It will definitely make you think.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Alden Terry

    I am still thinking about this book, even as I begin and finish others. So, so, honest. And that in itself I think is refreshing. And challenging. And often times hard to read and hard to sit with. This book doesn’t offer a resolution, like many others, but I found its confidence in not deciding to offer a conclusion very realistic, rather than unsatisfying. In a more technical sense, I enjoyed the intertwining of personal and non personal. I thought it worked. I liked the analysis of “heartbrea I am still thinking about this book, even as I begin and finish others. So, so, honest. And that in itself I think is refreshing. And challenging. And often times hard to read and hard to sit with. This book doesn’t offer a resolution, like many others, but I found its confidence in not deciding to offer a conclusion very realistic, rather than unsatisfying. In a more technical sense, I enjoyed the intertwining of personal and non personal. I thought it worked. I liked the analysis of “heartbreak” and all its forms, as well as the argument that the term is often too generously used, rendering it trivial. Drawing on its more physical effects and how it manifests in the human body was interesting, although I’m still not entirely sure how it lent itself to the objective of the book (perhaps I’m missing something). I could see how one could read this and decide the voice was not strong enough, but I would disagree with that inclination. It is a telling of humanity. There is force behind its descriptions and its decidedness comes in the form of coming clean—that Blake often doesn’t know how to feel, and doesn’t know if there is a decision she has to make. Or if there is a right decision. And I actually do not think, that even in the form of a book, that deciding both personally and to narrate to its audience, it is completely necessary.

  8. 5 out of 5

    James Beggarly

    Thanks to Netgalley and FSG for the ebook. While the author was in law school at Stanford, her sixteen year old cousin kills a nine year old boy with a box cutter. Her cousin has had a psychological break and now is facing life in jail without the possibility of parole in Angola, one of America’s toughest prisons. The author spends the next decade trying to make her way in life, graduating from law school, working for the Children’s Defense Fund, among other places and getting married and having Thanks to Netgalley and FSG for the ebook. While the author was in law school at Stanford, her sixteen year old cousin kills a nine year old boy with a box cutter. Her cousin has had a psychological break and now is facing life in jail without the possibility of parole in Angola, one of America’s toughest prisons. The author spends the next decade trying to make her way in life, graduating from law school, working for the Children’s Defense Fund, among other places and getting married and having a son, but during this time, her cousin, his victim and what this crime and punishment mean, are never far from her thoughts. It’s a study of the hard truths of our legal system, but also a study of grief, heartbreak and, most importantly, mercy.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Diana Mack

    The author's distant cousin, as a young teenager, waited in the woods for the next person to come thru. That next person was a young boy on a bicycle. He was savagely stabbed to death and left for his mother to find. The cousin immediately went to find someone to confess. The author wasn't close to this cousin but the tragedy invaded her life as she started law school. While she never offered legal advice she would research laws and review cases that would pertain to her cousin's case or was simi The author's distant cousin, as a young teenager, waited in the woods for the next person to come thru. That next person was a young boy on a bicycle. He was savagely stabbed to death and left for his mother to find. The cousin immediately went to find someone to confess. The author wasn't close to this cousin but the tragedy invaded her life as she started law school. While she never offered legal advice she would research laws and review cases that would pertain to her cousin's case or was similiar. Her thoughts and discussions were so interesting. Some hard questions to ask and answer Very thought provoking

  10. 4 out of 5

    Arthur Vomvas

    I gave it four stars because once I started reading it I felt it call me to be read more until I finished. It is a bit uneven and scattered but very revealing and filled with relatable passages of thoughts and feelings that are difficult to share. While it can be frustrating as it never fully delivers what you wish it would the author makes it clear that this is just how life works. The best book by a schizophrenic Buddhist that I’ve read.

  11. 5 out of 5

    David

    An essential read. Joins the ranks of one of my favorite memoirs. Think The Liars Club, The Tender Bar, Half Broke Horses. Thought-provoking, profound and poignant.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sara Warner

    Forgot I was reading non-fiction. Beautifully written.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jonno

    She made art out of tragedy.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Nicky Lewenson

    The narrative was beautifully written and gave me a chance to learn, think and reflect as it pulled me through the aftermath of this bone chilling crime and then how we as a country handle it. This is a great book for everyone. Young or old, parent or child. The author’s deep dive into heartbreak, the human condition, what it means to move on, faith and mercy is stunning. This book will stick with me for years to come.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mike Siems

    Katharine Blake takes a difficult, personal subject, and writes an incredibly honest and thought-provoking novel. I came away with a different perspective. I highly recommend adding the Uninnocent to your bookshelf.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jade Little

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kerri

  18. 5 out of 5

    Liz Davidson

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Egan

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kelsey Wonder

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sharon Bautista

  22. 5 out of 5

    John

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sheila Mackay

  24. 5 out of 5

    Shannon Knight

  25. 5 out of 5

    Gwen

  26. 5 out of 5

    Paul Sundberg

  27. 4 out of 5

    Hailey

  28. 4 out of 5

    Chaz

  29. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kallie

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