A black teenage boy is dead. A white man shot him. Was he standing his ground or was it murder?
It’s been a couple of days since I finished “Stand Your Ground” by Victoria Christopher Murray and the story of these two women, Janice and Meredith, is still a visceral element of my existence. Author of twenty-six books, VCM is the mother of Christian fiction. Her first book, “Temptation”, was the book that spurred me to begin writing my first manuscript. It was Victoria’s writing that announced to me that I had a place in literature as a Christian and a writer. Her writing has shaped my career. But this review is not shaded with any of that because this book is unlike any book that she has written.
Imagine if Michael Jordan had been exceptional at his baseball career? Or Beyonce had been given an Oscar-worthy performance in her acting debut? Victoria Christopher Murray has shown her gift as a writer can transcend tone, style and subject matter. She has pushed herself to a place from which she will never return with “Stand Your Ground.”
Tackling the controversy and complexity of the Stand Your Ground law that has allowed for the lives of Trayvon Martin and countless others to be taken, Victoria takes us to Pennsylvania, another Stand Your Ground state. The book opens with the death of honor student, Marquis Johnson, who was on his way to UPENN in the fall. We feel the story through the heart of Marquis’ mother, Janice. We also see the story through the eyes of the shooter’s wife, Meredith Spencer. Murray does an extraordinary job at making these characters complex and real. She tapped into the emotion and the inner conflict that we all share as mothers and wives. She includes backstory and family issues that provide depth to the characters and their thoughts. It is understandable that this book was the 2016 NAACP Image Award Winner for Outstanding Literary Work.
Murray also takes on the task to educate us about the nuances of the Stand Your Ground law and gives a stomach turning depiction of how stories are spun against victims who have been silenced by death. She dives into both sides of the story: the victim’s family and community vs the shooter’s family and supporters. Though we have vilified Florida as the hateful face of Stand Your Ground, there are twenty-six states with laws that remove the duty to retreat before using deadly force as self-defense. This right to kill because you are afraid is called Stand Your Ground. The legal response: Self-Defense. Difficult to prove otherwise, since the victims in Stand Your Ground cases are dead.
The Ex Files and Too Little Too Late were certainly entertaining and enlighting. Stand Your Ground proves to be both while educating and bringing a much-needed focus to the legal murder of African-American youth. The Mother of Christian fiction challenges us to consider where we stand on gun laws and social crises like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Eric Garner. She makes us think about what our faith means and how we live out our faith in politics, community, and family life choices. She “went there” and we all needed to go with her.