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Book Review by Madeline Fussy

Reclaiming Lives, written by Joan Treppa

Captivating and informative, Joan Treppa's second edition of Reclaiming Lives: Pursuing Justice for Six Innocent Men will give readers a deeper insight into the injustices of the American legal system. This novel narrows in on the case of the Monfils six and uncovers the injustices they faced resulting in their wrongful convictions. In addition, the second edition gives a voice to the convicted men and allows the reader to understand their experiences and connect with them more deeply.

At the novel's start, the reader meets Joan Treppa just as she learns about the Monfils case through her sister's friends, who had written a book on the subject. She learns that Tom Monfils was found dead in a vat at the papermill he worked at, and six men were convicted for his murder. She also learns that Tom's brother believed that Tom was likely to commit suicide and that all of the evidence used to convict the men was purely circumstantial. There was no evidence that Monfils' death was a murder; in fact, there was a great deal of evidence to indicate that the death was a suicide.

Learning of this injustice, Joan was outraged. To spread the message far and wide, Joan began selling copies of the book. At first, she started small, selling only a few to family members and coworkers. But she persisted in selling the books, and gradually attention to the case began to grow. One particular person she sold a book to was a retired detective who became an avid supporter of the Monfils six and helped them navigate the legal system with his decades of expertise.

Continuing to foster involvement and gain momentum for the wrongfully convicted men, Joan began to arrange events and network with various charitable organizations, exonerees, and even the six convicted men and their families. Organized The March for Truth and Justice, during which family members rallied together to call for the exonerations of their loved ones. She attends charitable events and galas to meet more people and spread the truth. At one such event, Joan meets a renowned lawyer who has successfully seen his clients reach exoneration. The law firm the lawyer worked for had pro bono lawyers, which means they were willing to do charitable work for free or at a low cost. After Joan presents the information to this lawyer with the help of the detective, the lawyer soon gets involved in the case.

With legal representation on their side, the exonerees have a scrap of hope. The case is reopened and retried. Will the wrongfully convicted men be released? Or will injustice further inhibit these men from being with the people they love?

A masterfully written true crime novel, this novel will leave readers feeling fired up! Treppa provides deep insight into the injustice that convicts face, especially those who are wrongfully convicted. Her writing shows just how lengthy and difficult it can be to right wrongs in this backward system. The novel is truly eye-opening and will encourage readers to donate their time or money to help advocate for the wrongfully convicted. Treppa takes the time to urge readers to do their own research and help in any way that they can. She encourages readers to get involved in something they are passionate about. I felt inspired by Treppa's words: "Imagine your legacy as having the potential to help even one person, to inspire loved ones, and to educate generations of knowledge seekers. You can make a difference. So, go on. Be brave. Be bold." This novel encourages readers not to be selfish with their time but to use it to do good.

Another aspect of Reclaiming Lives that I really appreciated was the inclusion of resources and pictures at the end of the novel. It was a really thoughtful step on Treppa's part that made the reader's experience that much more informative. Treppa includes names and links to charitable organizations, court cases, names of exonerees, documentaries, interviews, and news articles to help further the reader's research. This makes it simple for readers to reach out to a charitable organization or research other wrongful conviction cases and garner support for the wrongfully convicted. After the resources section, Treppa includes a photo gallery. The photos help to give faces to the names mentioned in the novel. They add a personal connection to the novel's inspiring and uplifting qualities. They show pictures of people rallying together and appealing for justice. The gallery of photos at the novel's end offers readers inspiration and hope.

One possible aspect that may hinder readers from reading Reclaiming Lives is a true crime, or legal novels can often get lost in the legal jargon that is so difficult to understand for the average citizen. In addition, legal novels have the chance to scare readers away if they are not in the mood for a heavy, dense, and dull read. However, this novel does not read like other legal novels. Treppa is not a lawyer or detective herself, so she successfully relays information from lawyers and detectives in a way that is easy to understand for the general public. I found Treppa's novel to be easily understandable and engaging. Her inclusion of legal transcripts did not feel forced or difficult to understand; it simply added to the story by making the reader feel included, as if they were there in the courtroom. So, if you are new to the true crime/legal genre or an old pro alike, you will find something interesting to learn about through Treppa's writing.

Treppa's use of personal narratives and experiences to act as a rallying cry for justice was excellent throughout the entirety of the novel. Reclaiming Lives is just the sort of novel to get readers fired up and ready to fight for justice. It includes all of the necessary resources and information to get readers started in their fight. Unlike some other crime novels, Reclaiming Lives stays within the realm of what is easy to understand for the average citizen. Overall, Reclaiming Lives is an inspiring novel that brings hope for the wrongfully convicted and their family members everywhere. I rate it a 5 out of 5 stars for being a thoughtfully written novel with an uplifting narrative.

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