“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.”
I’m just going to start off by saying that I read this book in a day. That might not be too impressive for some, especially with it being a fairly small book of just 210 pages, but I read this at work, during a busy shift, while flitting back and forth from reading my book to serving customers, assisting with patients, tidying and cleaning tools and other rooms, taking and making calls, filing, making coffee every hour on the hour – and other such things. It was a busy day, and I still breezed through this book with so much ease, and that’s a testament to both Nic Stone’s writing style, as well as the story itself.
In this age, I think it’s exceptionally important that stories like this are finally being told, more and more, and that authors like Angie Thomas (The Hate U Give), Jay Coles (Tyler Johnson Was Here), Nic Stone herself are finally tackling these issues head on and not backing down. Police Brutality towards marginalised groups, but especially the black community, is not a myth, and these stories are not merely fictional. These things are happening and we, as a collective planet, are choosing to close our eyes and ignore it. That is not okay. It has never ever been okay, and it shouldn’t be okay now. White Supremacists exist (and are sitting in the Oval Office as we speak), and there is an ongoing battle happening all around us as innocent people are gunned down, attacked in the streets, and torn from their lives and their families, and all because of the colour of their skin.
If, like me, you’ve read The Hate U Give, or seen the movie, you’ll know that Thomas’ debut novel was a massive hit, and that people all around the world haven’t stopped talking about it. It has opened up a necessary discussion on racism, classism, and blatant police brutality and the silencing of black youths; the way that the media will twist these situations and victimise the attacker, and shame the oppressed and the disadvantaged. We see it every day when we hear from the families of white, gun wielding martyrs (as is painted by the media), and hear their woeful story of how frightened they were of an unarmed, innocent, black child – while simultaneously being subjected to endless footage of black teens in hoodies and listening to rap music, as if the clothes they were and the songs they listen to are somehow a reflection upon their character, somehow a sign of their misgivings. The Hate U Give was a huge step in the right direction, and it finally gave people an incentive to look at the bigger picture and reassess their surroundings, the way that we as a collective talk and react and respond to situations and people, how even something as seemingly minor as our words can make such a difference. This is not the end of the discussion – indeed, it’s only the beginning.
The wonderful thing about Dear Martin is that it draws a lot more focus on the varying different communities within Justyce’s world. He is a young, black man in his own right, and we are constantly gaining insight into his own mindset, the way that he views himself, his own blackness, the rest of the black community, and the white people around him too. We see his own battle with ignorance, and how he often allows his own views to be warped – by the media, by those around him – and how easy it is to let doubt creep in. We’re given the opportunity to view various other black characters – light skinned, dark skinned, mixed race, from varying different cultures, backgrounds, and classes – and their impact on society, and the way that each person approaches a situation, their own views, and the difference between individuals. It’s a reminder that, regardless of the colour of your skin, each person is individual, is different, and that there can be good and bad within all of us no matter who we are and where we’re from. There’s a chorus of supporting white characters, each with a varying degree of privilege and entitlement – we see them all play off of one another, we hear those same arguments that we’ve all been subjected to at some stage in our own lives, where we’re forced to listen to some idiot claim that the world is equal, that intolerance and racism and prejudice doesn’t exist anymore, that people are just sensitive. There’s an array of different characters peppered through this story that were all so captivating in their own light, both for good and bad reasons, all of which had their own depth, their own layers to their personalities, with each individual character bringing something new to the table. This story wouldn’t have been nearly as important, and as groundbreaking, if Nic Stone hadn’t provided all the characters, and the different insights, that she did. She fired out facts in a way that wasn’t preachy or overwhelming, but was merely informative and insightful, and she opened up a means for a discussion in a way that didn’t feel as though it dragged, and didn’t feel one sided or disingenuous. White characters called out white characters, black characters called out black characters, there was endless conflict, heated discussions, informed debates, each page filled with fresh new takes.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Dear Martin is going to be the book that changes it all, nor do I necessarily consider it a story that tells the whole truth of the extremism of white superiority and brutality that is still so rampant. What I do think is that this is just one page of a much larger book, and that Nic Stone done a wonderful job of telling it. She’s opened up yet another dialogue and has provided a way to inform the reader and invite us into a wider discussion, while still condensing it to this one, singular instance. She’s not claiming any sort of position of power or superiority within her writing, or trying to tell us that she is the face of black lives matter or activism, but she is allowing us another angle to the black narrative, and giving us an opportunity to view things through the lens of someone who, first hand, experiences the blatant injustice and discrimination that she and countless other black people are faced with. Dear Martin is merely one piece of a much larger puzzle – but a necessary piece all the same.
Being white myself, I know that my own particular stance on these situations is still very shrouded as a result of my own privilege and the very colour of my skin. No matter how outraged and disgusted I might feel, there’s never going to be a day in which I can fully comprehend the injustices, because I have never had to face that level of stigma or disregard merely for the way that I look, and I know that this is not something that will never resonate with me on the same level that it would for black people everywhere. I don’t want to rant and rave and lecture anyone with this review, and I certainly don’t want to speak over the voices of those who do have first hand experiences with these kinds of threat, so I just want to leave this all open to discussion, and to allow other people to give their input and share their own takes on both this book, and the reality of what people of colour all around the world are facing.
Though the main focus of this book is, obviously the discussion of racism, I think that Stone does an excellent job of approaching other important discussions, too. Justyce goes on quite the journey for such a short book, and we watch him as he battles not only with the violence and the outrage that is being plastered all over the news, but with his own issues with toxic masculinity, and being able to address and approach his own gentle, more tender side. We get to see him as he addresses his own traumas and his own issues where male, parental figures are concerned, and how his past has defined the person that he is today. He grew up in a dangerous and abusive environment that taught him that men had to be one way, and he was never truly afforded the opportunity to learn that a man can be anything that he wants to be, and that there are no limits to who we are, how we behave, and how we express ourselves, regardless of our gender. Allowing us to dive into those aspects of Jus’s personality and his own personal battle with toxic masculinity felt like an incredibly important move, as it’s definitely a topic that is often avoided and glossed over, never quite given the attention that it deserves. And with each new layer to his character, and each aspect that we uncovered and learned, we got to see Justyce strip away so many of his own insecurities, within his race, his gender, his relationships, the way that he expresses and presents himself, and all of it built up and helped guide him on his way to truly accepting himself and coming to terms with his own fears and self doubt. After all, we are still reading a book from the perspective of a teenage boy; one filled with your average, teenage angst, in which he doesn’t always know how to talk to girls, he gets into conflicts and arguments and disagreements with his mother, and where communication is so very key, especially when you’re not always prone to opening yourself up and allowing yourself to be vulnerable.
On one, final note, I think it’s worth noting, once again, that I adored the style of writing within this book. It made it so clean, so simple, and yet a perfect presentation. I think it’s fair to say that we’ve all had books that we’ve read in the past that, likely, would have gotten a higher rating had it not been for the incessant, mindless babbling, the needless details and extensions of scenes and plots that could have long since been resolved. Between the simplicity of the dialogue, with Stone regularly formatting her conversations as though written as a play, rather than a novel. This made her story far easier to process, in places, as the was never any need for all that additional background noise that often detracts from the importance of the scene. She would flit back and forth between styles effortlessly, referring back to the narrator only when there was actually something happening around the dialogue that needed to be addressed. There are countless pages throughout the course of the book that depict Justyce’s letters to MLK, and we also see the introduction of news reports through the latter half of the book, giving us moments of insight and realism into what’s happening around each of the characters and their own interpersonal stories and relationships, without forcing Justyce into a long, unnecessary monologue as he tries to recap us on events that could easily be condensed into smaller sections.
I really enjoyed this book immensely, and as shameful as it is that it took me so long to pick it up, I’m delighted that I did.