The Justice Project is a great book that mixes a sports star dealing with an injury with the injustice of innocent people being put in jail for life. While it starts slowly, the pace picks up quickly and is a completely satisfying read. Thank you to NetGalley and Orca Books for a review copy of this title which will be published on October 1st.
Matt Barnes is the football hero in a football town. Everyone knows him and reveres him. When an accident leaves him injured and the college scholarships disappear, Matt loses his sense of self and is angry at the world. In one of his final senior classes, Matt meets Jesse Donovan, the founder of The Justice Project. When The Justice Project’s summer interns cancels at the last minute, Matt finds himself working for the organization rather than spend the summer being a lackey at the golf club. While visiting a prisoner who will be getting released soon, they hear of another prisoner who refuses to accept parole because it would require him to say he was guilty and he is not. Matt and Sonya, the other intern and an incredibly smart girl from his school, want to take it on, even without the JP actually signing it on. The rest of the story is that process.
As for the characters, they worked without seeming too ridiculous. The football star, or any athlete who bases their life and education on sports, is an all to true character. Matt’s reaction to his injury, his using his crutches as an actual crutch, reminded me of the main character in The Running Dream. Sonya Livingstone, the bright girl who can’t stand that sports are so huge in her small town…yeah, I live that role and am watching my daughters deal with it. Matt and Sonya never would have been friends in school, but being thrown together the way they were and developing an actual friendship over time, I can get behind that.
The concept of this book caught my attention immediately. A photographer that I worked with many years ago won an award for her photographs for The Innocence Project, a real organization that works with prisoners who are wrongly convicted. This book opens people’s eyes to the fact that our justice system isn’t perfect, especially for those who are poor (and of color). As it turns out, the character of Jesse Donovan is based on the true story of Larry Hicks who was wrongly accused of murder. Bill Matheson, one of the freed men in the story, is also based on the true story of Michael Morton. Just as the Innocence Project showed the actual people who had been wrongly convicted, this book is a statement about the truth behind the story.
In summary, a great story about an important topic. Perfect for high school shelves.