Published by Crown Books for Young Readers on October 17th, 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
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.
“You ever consider that maybe you not supposed to ‘fit’? People who make history rarely do.”
Dear Martin is the third book I’ve read this year on discrimination against black American teens. I feel like this topic has gained an increasing amount of attention in YA literature, and this makes me extremely happy, for it is an issue in dire need of recognition and action. As a white person, I recognise my privilege and cannot fully comprehend the issues POC face, but each book I read and POC I talk to brings me closer to understanding.
In spite of being short, Dear Martin packs a punch by addressing police violence against black American individuals and being torn between two worlds through the eyes of a young man writing letters to Dr. Martin Luther King. And this is where my unpopular opinion comes in: Though I enjoyed this book, I had expected more from the story as a whole.
Justyce McAllister is a 17-yr old black American teenager who struggles with racial profiling, open and subtle racism, toxic friendships, girl troubles, his distant mother, not being white enough for an Ivy League school, and not being black enough for his neighbourhood. I enjoyed Justyce’s point of view, and this is key in order to transfer his feelings to the reader when faced with prejudice and injustice on a daily basis. Though Dear Martin tackles systematic racism, as does this year’s popular release The Hate U Give, it focuses more on profiling and stereotypes in arrest and prosecution. Nic Stone chose several scenarios to demonstrate how “African American male stereotypes” influence Justyce’s dealings with both peers and police officers. It works well in favour of the book’s goal and unapologetically brings humiliation, fear, anger, frustration, and other emotions to the page – and to the reader. The story advocates for kindness instead of violence to fight injustice, and it effectively immunises the ‘aggressive thug’ stereotype associated with young black men. I think it is no mere coincidence the author chose the name ‘Justyce’ for her main character, and while I love The Hate U Give‘s Starr and Piecing Me Together‘s Jade, I’m so happy Nic Stone went with a young man for her book, for there is still a lack of male protagonists in YA, especially POC.
Since the story was already quite short to begin with, I was not surprised to find very few descriptions, but was rather astonished by the lack of introspection (save for the letters to MLK). The book is dominated by dialogue, and while that can work well for a story, it seemed to switch between prose and script at random. I’m pretty sure I missed the point of this, but I will be honest when I say that it just seemed like lazy writing. As for the writing overall, I thought its style fitting for a contemporary, but I also have to admit that I did not find it particularly good. While I really liked Justyce’s friendship with Manny, the romance was pretty bland and made me feel nothing. Further, I was bothered by the presence of unreprimanded sexism in this book. Women are repeatedly objectified by Justyce and his male peers without anyone calling them out on it or being taught to respect women as part of character development. Justyce will often mention body parts when talking about girls (e.g., how hot his ex’s booty is) and, occasionally, a girl will be referred to as a hoe. Even worse, some of the nasty comments target black American girls specifically, for example when Justyce’s best friend says black girls scare him because they’re so “ghetto”. This comment is not countered in any way in this book, which I find rather disconcerting. The sexism coming from the male characters, including the main character, is perhaps my biggest issue with Dear Martin.
In a nutshell, I think Dear Martin added to the growing literature on racism in the US and the topics it tackles are so important. However, I feel like Nic Stone’s ideas could’ve been turned into something more elaborate, something with more depth. Considering the raving reviews, I was definitely a tad disappointed with this book, but look forward to reading more from this new YA contemporary voice.