Title: Dear Martin
Author: Nic Stone
Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: October 17th 2017
*I received a copy of this book through a Goodreads giveaway which does not influence my review*
Nic Stone’s Dear Martin is an ardent and poignant story that challenges its readers at every turn. Justyce McAllister has a bright future ahead of him. His life isn’t perfect, but at Braselton Preparatory Academy, it feels like he has the opportunity to become anything he wishes. But to the cop that puts him in handcuffs the night he’s trying to do a good deed, Justyce is just another black kid up to no good. The encounter shakes him to his core. He begins to reevalutae his own views about the world around him and it becomes nearly impossible for him to ignore the racism he witnesses. Taking pen to paper, Justyce begins writing letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a way to cope with the growing tension inside him.
For such a small novel, Stone’s debut packs quite the punch. Using different styles of writing, Stone catapults readers into Justyce’s world. In his letters, he is both honest and earnest, and his anger and confusion are palpable. Justyce opens up about becoming the person he wants to be in a world that takes one look at him and decides it already knows everything about him. A few chapters are written like scenes out of a play where the dialogue takes center stage. Stone employs this method most notably during scenes from Justyce’s Societal Evolution class in order to replicate the fast-paced discussions between students in this debate-like setting. Most of Justyce’s classmates are a frustrating bunch to listen to. They throw out racist comments casually without batting an eyelash. Their view of racism in America is a familiar one in which racism isn’t something that happens anymore. Any time they are called out on it, they default to the “you’re being too sensitive” excuses. They are unable to accept that they themselves could possibly be racist despite people pointing out their remarks are offensive. It’s important to note that Stone chooses a cop with a Latinx name as the one who racially profiles Justyce at the beginning of the novel. So many discussions revolve around race relations between black and white people, but racism as an idea in the U.S. permeates every population. Anti-blackness is very much an issue in the Latinx community and should come under scrutiny.
One of the major themes of the novel is who controls the narrative, how these ideas are internalized, and the consequences of bias narratives. Stone explores these ideas and pushes readers to challenge their own views. Justyce’s story eventually leads to an even more traumatic event in which someone close to him loses their life. In the days that follow, Justyce’s name is dragged through the mud. The story becomes about how the victims somehow deserved what they got instead of how the perpetrator let their own racial biases control their judgment. Dear Martin is uncomfortable, but necessary. It’s a thought-provoking and relevant novel that asks tough questions and demands the reader sit up and pay attention.