“Alex Mar’s bold yet sensitive account of one of America’s youngest death row inmates—and the people whose lives she forever changed—is intimately reported, deeply moving, and unforgettable.” —Robert Kolker, New York Times bestselling author of Hidden Valley Road
“An absorbing work of social history and a story about the mystery and miracle of forgiveness. This is a book of awesome scope, and it deserves to be read with attention.” —Hilary Mantel, Booker Prize–winning author of the Wolf Hall trilogy
A masterful, revelatory work of literary non-fiction about a teenage girl’s shocking crime—and its extraordinary aftermath
On a spring afternoon in 1985 in Gary, Indiana, a fifteen-year-old girl kills an elderly woman in a violent home invasion. In a city with a history of racial tensions and white flight, the girl, Paula Cooper, is Black, and her victim, Ruth Pelke, is white and a beloved Bible teacher. The press swoops in.
When Paula is sentenced to death, no one decries the impending execution of a tenth grader. But the tide begins to shift when the victim’s grandson Bill forgives the girl, against the wishes of his family, and campaigns to spare her life. This tragedy in a midwestern steel town soon reverberates across the United States and around the world—reaching as far away as the Vatican—as newspapers cover the story on their front pages and millions sign petitions in support of Paula.
As Paula waits on death row, her fate sparks a debate that not only animates legal circles but raises vital questions about the value of human life: What are we demanding when we call for justice? Is forgiveness an act of desperation or of profound bravery? As Bill and Paula’s friendship deepens, and as Bill discovers others who have chosen to forgive after terrible violence, their story asks us to consider what radical acts of empathy we might be capable of.
In Seventy Times Seven, Alex Mar weaves an unforgettable narrative of an act of violence and its aftermath. This is a story about the will to live—to survive, to grow, to change—and about what we are willing to accept as justice. Tirelessly researched and told with intimacy and precision, this book brings a haunting chapter in the history of our criminal justice system to astonishing life.
Alex Mar is the author of Witches of America, which was a New York Times Notable Book and Editors’ Pick. Her work has appeared in New York Magazine, Wired, The New York Times Book Review, and The Guardian, among many other outlets, as well as The Best American Magazine Writing. She has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award in Feature Writing, and she is the director of the feature-length documentary American Mystic. She lives in the Hudson Valley and New York City.