If you loved The Hate U Give, you’re going to adore Dear Martin. It’s a book that doesn’t shy away from really tough issues but also has love and humor and hope embedded in it. Dear Martin by Nic Stone has been sitting in my kindle for forever, since I found it for $1.99 in February of 2018. But I finally picked it up and read it in one go. Literally. My hip is SCREAMING right now because I curled up on my couch and devoured this. It’s short, only 212 pages, but it really packs a punch.
Justyce McAllister learns what it means to be racially profiled when he’s handcuffed and detained for three hours just for trying to help his drunk girlfriend into her car so she won’t drive drunk. The things the cop says to him will make your blood boil, but Justyce knows he’s lucky to get out alive. He’s one of the only black kids at a prep school in Atlanta, having escaped from the less affluent area he grew up in. But after that interaction with a cop, Justyce becomes more aware of the world around him. He starts studying the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and he notices the racist tendencies of some of his prep school peers. Then, the unthinkable happens. It’s the story you hear about on the news but never think could happen to you, to someone you know: an unarmed black man is shot by an off-duty police officer. Justyce’s world is shattered. In the aftermath, Justyce learns just what it is like to be under attack, reconnects with his past in order to better understand his future, and dives into the teachings of Dr. King even further. The way this plot plays out will keep you reading and reading and reading until the final pages, which will frankly make you tear up. If you’re human that is.
I really can’t even do this book justice in a review because it’s just that good. There are a couple stylistic things that feel weird, like Stone’s use of screenplay dialogue style in the middle of prose. It feels like a shortcut, but it somehow works for the dialogue. I just wish it had been explained better or integrated more clearly. But the debates these teens have were intense. I was so into the moment that I almost didn’t mind the style change. Justyce is an amazing character who is really complex and also self-aware in a way that’s refreshing but not unrealistic. His letters to Dr. King were a great way to access his grapplings with race and with life in general and even romance. Of course some of the other characters, especially Jared, made me want to set someone on fire, but that’s kind of the point. Those people actually exist.
The plot around the shooting is more complicated than it might be in other accounts, other books. There’s a previous shooting, gang activity, etc. It doesn’t necessarily negate what happens but it impacts it in ways that are both really effective as a plot device but also as a thought exercise. What does a threat really look like? How does PTSD affect people? The courtroom scene made me so angry but it was also so realistic that that hurt just as badly. Also SJ and SJ’s family were such a rainbow of sunshine in the darkness in this book without being a “white savior” kind of show. I won’t elaborate, but it’s a fun journey.
Okay, I should stop rambling about how much I enjoyed this book and just let you all read it. I’m sad this book hasn’t gotten as much attention as The Hate U Give because they have a lot in common but I hope that will change once the THUG movie comes out this fall. This book was great and I’m glad I finally sat down and binge read it. Also, love the Yale shoutouts.