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.
NOTE: As a white woman, I am incapable of fully understanding the issues that plague black individuals today. I recognize my privilege and try to learn something new every single day, and I am so grateful for authors like Nic Stone who can teach me new ways of seeing society. That said, my opinion on this book is honestly so much less important than own-voice reviewers’ words. If you or someone you know is an own-voice reviewer of this book and would like your review to be featured in my blog post, please message me here on Goodreads or DM me on twitter because I would love to share your words.
First and foremost, let me tell you that this is one of the most important stories that I have ever had the mixed pleasure and heartache of reading. Justyce’s story is one of societal racism, police brutality, toxic masculinity, and privilege. His letters to Martin Luther King, Jr. beautifully depict the pain and difficulty that comes with being a black individual in the United States today.
It is so incredibly intersectional and finds a way to address so many talking points that many of my peers – of all ages – could benefit from seeing through this book’s lens. No matter your political stance, I would highly encourage every single person to pick up a copy of Dear Martin and go into it with your eyes and mind as wide open as possible.
“How do I work against this, Martin? Getting real with you, I feel a little defeated. Knowing there are people who don’t want me to succeed is depressing. Especially coming from two directions.”
Something exceptionally interesting to me about Nic Stone’s writing in this book is her decision to address not only racism, but also the mindset that some individuals in the black community have regarding themselves and other POC. There is a lot of explanation given for how, in a nutshell, once a group of people have been put down over and over for so long, in such painful ways, and have been shown that no amount of effort they can put forth will be recognized as equal, it can be easy to feel defeated and hopeless – sometimes to the point of giving up.
Justyce’s reaction to his unlawful arrest, and the ways that his privileged, wealthy white classmates treat him, broke my heart. He becomes so hopeless at times. Despite being incredibly brilliant and hard-working, Jus questions his own worth at points, asking, “Am I ever going to get anywhere? Is this battle worth fighting?”
“Do I just take what they dish out, try to stop being “so sensitive”? What do I do when my very identity is being mocked by people who refuse to admit there’s a problem?”
What may have been the most painful aspect of reading Dear Martin for me, was watching the way his so-called “friends” treated him. The microaggressions escalated steadily to blatant cruelty, and so much of it looked so familiar to things I saw and heard people say firsthand, growing up in the Atlanta metro. I’m so ashamed to say this, but there were even comments that I remembered making similar assumptions to as a young teen, and seeing it on paper like that brutally reminded me of how many people I have hurt with my carelessness in years past.
“My dudes… they’re like family to me. They’ve got my back as long as I have theirs.”
One of many topics Nic Stone handled beautifully was the portrayal of gangs, and the reasoning for why so many teens get sucked into them: at the root of many gangs lies a family, something to hold on to and to protect yourself with. In a society that has ceaselessly attacked the individuals it deems “other”, is it any surprise that individuals like Justyce’s childhood friend would seek solace in gangs?
The entire gang discussion in Dear Martin also highlights some serious struggles with toxic masculinity and the way it can effect young people in particular, leading young men to believe that proving their worth means violence, aggression, etc. While it’s not a topic that is focused on very clearly in this book, it’s worth mentioning.
Among other less-discussed topics in the book, there’s time taken to dive into sexism (like Justyce’s frequent remarks to Manny that he is “such a girl”, which is later challenged), misogynoir and internalized racism (as Justyce’s best friend, Manny, admits that he struggles to find black women attractive, and goes on to categorize them stereotypically and unfairly), and discrimination and how it can impact both sides (Justyce has a crush on his best friend – a Jewish girl named SJ – but refuses to pursue it due to his mother’s insistence that no black son of hers should have anything to do with a white girl).
There’s also a heavy line of discussion about police brutality, which we get to see somewhat from both sides: Justyce wonders if one cop’s racism is influenced by having seen his partner shot by a black teen months prior – blame is never 100% placed on either side, and nobody’s actions are justified. As a result of police brutality, Justyce’s best friend’s father joins a protest group (seemingly similar to Black Lives Matter), and is forced to resign from his management position as a result of being seen with “those people”. I know that BLM and police brutality is a hot topic of controversy here in the states lately, and I thought Nic Stone made her points flawlessly.
“In that moment, when I thought I was dying, it hit me: despite how good of a dude Martin was, they still killed him, man.”
This quote in particular was what finally broke me in Dear Martin. I have grown so weary of individuals claiming that marginalized groups – particularly black individuals – don’t protest “the right way”. If they stand silent, it’s wrong. If they kneel, it’s wrong. If they wear t-shirts and hold signs, it’s wrong. This is so incredibly relevant to the turmoil facing our nation today, and at a certain point, you have to wake up and realize: it isn’t about the protests – it never was. It’s about the skin color of the protesters.
I feel like there’s so much more that I could say about Dear Martin. I’m sitting here with tears streaking down my cheeks, and all I want to do is say any combination of the right words to convince you to pick this book up, to lose yourself in this story the way I did. To go into it with open eyes and to learn something from Nic Stone’s experiences. If there could ever be a contemporary title that I could convince you to get a copy of, let it be Dear Martin.
Content warnings: racism, police brutality, violence, death, misogyny/misogynoir.
All quotes are taken from an ARC. Thank you so much to PRH/CROWN for sending me this ARC in exchange for an honest review.