Book Review: Dear Martin by Nic Stone
Raw, captivating, and undeniably real, Nic Stone joins industry giants Jason Reynolds and Walter Dean Myers as she boldly tackles American race relations in this stunning debut.
Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates.
Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.
Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up—way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack.
This book is a powerful and incredibly nuanced look at racism, police brutality, privilege, profiling, and so much more. The thing I kept writing in my notes was “it’s all so very complicated.” And, of course, it IS—you don’t need to know anything about the plot specifics to look at the list of topics it touches on to know it’s complicated. But Justyce’s thoughts, his experiences, the moves he makes/considers/rejects are all so VERY complex. I was completely wrapped up in this story, which I read in one sitting. There is not just one “incident” in this book. Justyce is handcuffed and assaulted by a cop when he’s seen helping his drunk ex-girlfriend into her car in the middle of the night. He’s seen an endless stream of stories in the news about unarmed black kids wrongfully arrested and/or killed, but he never thought it would happen to him. As Justyce says, he’s not “threatening” like some of the kids he’s seen on the news can be/look (his thoughts, not mine). It’s an eye-opening experience, one that prompts him to begin writing letters to Dr. King as he tries to work out his thoughts and works to begin to really see more of what is going on all around him.
There are other incidents that change the way Justyce sees things: his best friend Manny’s cousin, Quan, is charged with murdering a cop. His classmate Jared (and others, but Jared is the worst) spouts off endlessly about how color-blind America is and how everyone here is equal. There are intense classroom conversations about race, police, equality, and privilege that lead Justyce to some new thoughts and to see his peers in different lights. Justyce seeks solutions and ways to handle things like classmates seeing nothing wrong with wearing blackface, dressing up as KKK members for Halloween, and completely being oblivious to their own privilege. Justyce grapples with the trauma of his profiling arrest through all of this—it’s never far from his mind. His best times are with Manny or with Sarah-Jane, who is Jewish and his debate partner (and who he is totally crushing on—but, like everything else, that’s complicated).
The story really ramps up when, partway through, Manny and Justyce encounter an angry, racist, off-duty cop while blaring their music at a stoplight. What happens here, and after, is heartbreaking, profoundly moving, and often incredibly infuriating. This stunning debut is captivating, raw, and immensely readable. I would love to see this used in classrooms or book clubs and hear the conversations it would generate. This important and thoughtful look at racism, and many issues stemming from and surrounding racism, should be in all teen collections. A must-read. I can’t wait to see what else Nic Stone writes.
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 10/17/2017
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
SLJ Blog Network
A Podcast Experiment: SPEED ROUND w/ Marla Frazee, Dan Santat, Doug Salati, and Amina Luqman-Dawson.
Review of the Day: There Was a Party for Langston, King of Letters by Jason Reynolds, ill. Jerome and Jarrett Pumphrey
Extincts: Flight of the Mammoth | This Week’s Comics
Back in the (Literary) Saddle, a guest post by Jessica Burkhart
The Classroom Bookshelf is Moving