Justyce McAllister is top of his class, captain of the debate team, and set for the Ivy League next year—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. He is eventually released without charges (or an apology), but the incident has Justyce spooked. Despite leaving his rough neighborhood, he can’t seem to escape the scorn of his former peers or the attitude of his prep school classmates. The only exception: Sarah Jane, Justyce’s gorgeous—and white—debate partner he wishes he didn’t have a thing for.
Struggling to cope with it all, Justyce starts a journal to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But do Dr. King’s teachings hold up in the modern world? Justyce isn’t so sure.
Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up. Way up. Much to the fury of the white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. And Justyce and Manny get caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack. The truth of what happened that night—some would kill to know. Justyce is dying to forget.
“Dear Martin (AKA Dr. King),
First and foremost, please know I mean you no disrespect with the whole ‘Martin’ thing. I studied you and your teachings for a project in tenth grade, so it feels most natural to interact with you as a homie. Hope you don’t mind that.”
How can I not love this book? Dear Martin is a wonderful piece of work that explores important racial discussions that take place today through its nuanced, quick dialogue and exemplary introspection of the main character, Justyce. Even though this book was short at only 224 pages, it’s absolutely unforgettable and raises relevant discussion points. I really recommend this contemporary to all readers – they will not regret picking up this small but fierce and mighty book.
From the very first chapter, I knew I would love reading from Justyce’s point of view. It’s a third person limited POV and we see him taking care of his ex-girlfriend who is drunk, despite breaking up recently. I knew from then Jus – debate team captain, who scored almost perfect on the SAT+ACT, Yale-bound, and boy after my own heart – was a caring and charming and real character. But when that incident leaves him in handcuffs and an officer falsely charging him of car-jacking, he becomes shaken.
It hits him: Melo’s drunk beyond belief in the backseat of a car she fully intended to drive, yet Jus is the one in handcuffs.”
Justyce’s voice is extremely realistic and raw, as his thoughts explore the intricacies of being black in a mostly-white prep school. He’s direct and constantly curious, starting up the project “Dear Martin,” where he would write letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “What Would Martin Do?” becomes a part of his daily mantra as he is exposed to constant racist behavior against him and his friends. The dialogue was quick and natural and flowed superbly. Each characterization felt like the author took someone in the real world and inserted their character in the book – they were all so down-to-earth and extremely reflective of the attitudes people have today, whether it’s someone who dismisses the blatant racism in their eyes or has an ignorant view of the situation.
I love how Stone explored the relationships in this book, not only from the racist remarks from white to black people, but also the thoughts of black people to white. Jus’s friend Manny is black but has grown up in privilege, surrounded by white guys who carry racist undertones in their conversation. And yet, each of them are up for “equality” – the equality that only makes sense with their privileged eyes. They don’t “see race,” an argument we hear all too often despite how much it doesn’t make sense. Jus also juggled a burgeoning relationship with his white debate partner – whom his mom would not have approved of – and a mysterious connection to a black gang in the neighborhood. All the while, he balances the thought of not belonging anywhere he goes, as the people at his preppy school will always have veiled racist remarks while the guys in the streets see him as too smart to hang out with them. Is there really a way of winning?
“I need to pay more attention, Martin. Start really seeing stuff and writing it down. Figure out what to do with it. That’s why I’m writing to you. You faced way worse shi- I mean stuff than sitting in handcuffs for a few hours, but you stuck to your guns… Well, your lack thereof, actually.
I wanna try to live like you. Do what you would do. See where it gets me.”
One thing I would have wanted is more of an exploration with Jus’s relationship with his mom and the black gang that takes matters in their own hand in the latter part of the book. There are some elements to those relationships that I feel like, if he applied to his Dear Martin project, would have come out with more learning experiences. Again, it’s a rather short book so I didn’t expect everything introduced to have a large exploration, but it would have been interesting to see where the plotline with the gang could have gone if expanded a bit further.
For a book that barely makes 200 pages, Dear Martin packs a punch. The ending is conclusive and satisfying and almost bittersweet in a way – but that just goes to show how realistic it is. And despite that, there is a glimpse of hope and change. Readers will see a reflection of Jus’s experience with what happens in reality. I found myself tearing up while reading the end and the way all the story conflicts were handled. It was so authentic and real, it just dug straight into my heart. Nic Stone’s writing is simple yet unforgettable, just as the masterpiece that Dear Martin is.
Thank you Penguin for the review copy!