Title: Dear Martin
Author: Nic Stone
Category: YA Contemporary
Publisher/Date: Crown Books/17 October 2017
Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/dear-martin-nic-stone/1125531425#/
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 is going to read less like a review and more like a loosely-structured essay for an English class, so bear this in mind while reading. Content warnings for this book include violence, racism, slut shaming of a female character, and sudden death of a character.
I feel under-prepared to review this wonderful book because my thoughts become a jumbled mess when I think about it. This book reflects a lot of the realities society faces today that people who don’t live these realities, myself included, do not understand. I see the phrase “mirrors and windows” a lot when I see others talking about this book, and I think it’s accurate; this book is both relatable and eye-opening, and it’s something that everyone should read.
There is a LOT to unpack in this little book, so I’m going to spend much of this review talking about Jared, that white asshole who believes in reverse racism. This is for three reasons: 1.) I am so white that I practically blend into the cover of this book and I’m SUPER NOT QUALIFIED to talk about Black representation, 2.) there are LOTS of wonderful Black reviewers out there who have written [much more interesting] reviews than this, and 3.) from what I could find on Goodreads and elsewhere there isn’t a lot of talk about this particular part of the book, and while I don’t think that Jared is the most important part of this book by any means (Justyce and Manny blow him out of the water on that one), I do think that we should talk about him and what his character does for this book.
It’s pretty apparent from the first page Jared steps on that he’s going to be a character that you roll your eyes at a lot. He spends that first scene claiming that reverse racism is what kept him from being admitted to Yale when Justyce was admitted, and in the process of making his argument he manages to come off as racist multiple times. He’s a spoiled rich white kid who feels entitled to things because of his status, and he has no concept of life outside of that. Arguments just like the ones Jared makes are made by people all over this country (and elsewhere) every single day, and what’s really fascinating about this book is while it gives Jared that outlet to say his views aloud, what it lets you see through Justyce’s eyes acts as a visual counterpoint to that. In this book, racism isn’t addressed for the reader with verbal statements; it’s addressed through the actions of the characters we see. This is really powerful and can be eye-opening for readers who don’t experience what Justyce does in their daily lives.
The eye-opening power of direct actions doesn’t just impact the reader; it also impacts Jared. Jared spends the majority of the book as an ignorant bonehead because when he doesn’t see racism himself, he doesn’t believe in it. This changes in a major way when Jared is directly impacted by racism (which I will not go into in-depth because spoilers). Oftentimes when we get redemption narratives like this, characters often go from “I am right and you are wrong” to “you were right and now I must tell everyone and change the world right this second!” within the span of a chapter or so. This doesn’t happen here. Jared does not immediately do a complete 180; he ends up confused and questioning everything about racism that he’s learned in his young life. We don’t just see him change his views; we see the complicated nature of rejecting what he knows to be true. As ideal as it would be for a racist to completely change their mind on a view within the span of a second, it’s not really realistic to expect that. What is realistic is seeing a racist struggle while questioning their views, and this is something we really get from Jared. He does eventually reach a conclusion, which is great, but it’s not immediate, and I really love how we get to see that transformation take place in a slow manner.
Jared by himself is a pretty terrible character. What makes his character function is having his verbally-expressed views juxtaposed with Justyce’s perspective. When you see something happen, be it through your own eyes or someone else’s, you start to see where the holes are in the inexperienced arguments made be people like Jared, and this can be really effective for helping readers build empathy and show them how to think more critically about their world. Jared works because we have Justyce.
Please read reviews by Black reviewers as well, especially since I’ve only covered one small part of this book! If you know of any I should link to, please leave them in the comments and I’ll be happy to add them in.
If you want to help this fantastic book get into the hands of students, a teacher is trying to get 35 copies of the book to her middle schoolers. $15 is enough to provide one book to the students, which is amazing. If you’d like to help them out, you can donate here: https://www.donorschoose.org/project/dear-donor-we-want-to-read-dear-martin/2862516/?
Final rating: 5 of 5 stars