My Rating: 3.5/5 Stars
Dear Martin by Nic Stone
The story of a young man’s wrongful arrest and his attempts to process his new awareness to the everyday racism he encounters.
Dear Martin by Nic Stone is about race relations and a young high-schooler starting a social experiment of writing to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and thinking about what he would do if he were in his shoes. The book won the William C. Morris Debut YA Award.
When Justyce McAllister hears that his ex-girlfriend is drunk and attempting to drive herself home, he hurries over to help. A patrolling cop who witnesses the scene believes Justyce is trying to carjack her and arrests him. Though he is soon cleared of charges, the events of that night have Justyce reeling and thinking about what it means to be black in America. He decides, while in jail, to start writing letters to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in an attempt to organize his thoughts and to come up with solutions to the everyday racism he experiences.
The novel follows Justyce through his days in high school, his growing feelings for his debate partner, a white (Jewish) girl, and his struggles accepting his best friend Manny’s friend group, who might be a bit racist.
This book is a heavy-hitter, given current events. Deeply embedded in the story are thoughts and feelings about racism in America, activism, and the struggles of a young black man who feels like he’ll always be thought of as other or less than.
Stone wrote this book in response to her own reactions to and thoughts about the current climate of race in America as it pertains to the numerous deaths of young black men at the hands of white cops. The book’s discussion of race and equality, continually tied back to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s own discussions about race, is thought-provoking and resonant. I’m sure many teenagers will relate easily to Justyce, who is a hard-working high-school student struggling with acts of racism, both big and small.
What I wish was covered is racism as pertaining to black women, who often bear the brunt of abuse and dismissal at the hands of others. The black women in the book are only minor characters and often don’t end up part of the discussion when talking about race. Though the book is told from Justyce’s eyes, in his new awareness of racism, and in discussions about race in his sociology class at school, black women are never brought up. This is the one area I wish the book would have delved into and felt it needed to make it truly whole.
Literary Value: 3/5
This book was decently written. The one thing that made it a bit funky for me was that often Stone would break from traditional dialogue and go into a transcript-like exchange, with the character’s name and a colon followed by their spoken words. It read a bit like a script and I understood why she would choose to use it in debate settings like during Jus’s classes, but sometimes it would pop up just randomly, like when an argument starts. It was weird and, I felt, unnecessary.
I think Stone leaned heavily into clichéd dialogue at times when using the characters to discuss racism, particularly in their Sociology class. While I understand the use of these points, it also made the discussion feel a bit shallow, that maybe new examples were needed to keep the dialogue fresh and to perhaps show other ways that people don’t think of that are racist.
The novel clips along at a fast pace, and often skims over daily life events in the book, which then are summarized before introducing a new scene. While I understand that this progresses the story quicker and keeps the action high, it doesn’t give a lot of time for other characters to develop. The novel takes place over a whole year, but is fairly short and only significant events in the timeline are given notice. Justyce, Sarah-Jane, and Manny are the only characters really fleshed out. Others, like Jared, Trey, and Quan, are all one-note, which left me feeling like I didn’t really know anyone besides Justyce. I think the story would have had more bite if it took its time and provided more opportunities for the characters to grow.
Entertainment Factor: 3/5
This story was really compelling and I whipped right through it! It’s not a long story, but I’m a slow reader, so I found myself surprised to have finished it in two days. I probably could have finished it in one day if I had more time to set aside to reading.
Stone has put together a fast-paced narrative, with some really explosive moments that threw me for a loop! The book’s discussion of race is fascinating and insightful and I found myself turning page after page, really sinking into Jus’s world and seeing things through his eyes. I was hooked right away and the book never slowed.
Cover Art Rating: 4/5
I’m a big fan of this cover. I think its minimalism is really beautiful. While I don’t normally like seeing images of real people on the covers of fiction books (because they put a pre-determined image of the character in my head instead of letting me imagine them for myself), this time it doesn’t bother me so much. It’s a profile shot, and the boy on the cover is mostly taken up by a layered image of what I imagine are city lights, probably a motion capture of a car driving by. I love the vivid color and I love the hand-writing styled title, which throws back to Justyce’s letters to Martin Luther King. Major props!
Overall Rating: 3.5/5
This book is really insightful. The realism it portrays about racism in America is very heartfelt and rings true. I think Stone handled her subject matter well and the story she has written is really striking and relatable. I won’t have any problem book-talking this to teenagers, who I think would not only gravitate to this story, but would also benefit from its message: just be true to yourself. It’s a quick, easy read and its generally fast-paced story really pulls you along and brings you straight into the thick of it. I am really glad I picked this book up and I definitely recommend you check it out!
Open discussion below!
Let me know what you think! If you’ve read Dear Martin, share your thoughts! Thinking you’ll read it or pass on it? Tell me all about it below in the comments. And, as always, keep up the reading!