Recent Morris Award 2018 finalist, Dear Martin follows African American senior Justyce as he navigates a recent incident of racial discrimination that has him questioning his identity and writing to Martin Luther King, Jr. about his experiences and how they interact with MLK’s philosophy.
When Justyce McAllister tries to help his drunk ex-girlfriend by safely driving her home one night, a policeman arrests Justyce, believing he is committing a crime, and Justyce is not allowed to speak in his defense. It’s a rude awakening for potential Ivy League student Justyce to racial discrimination, especially since he’s been attending a prestigious mostly-white prep school on scholarship and highly involved in extracurriculars like debate team. To try and understand his situation, Justyce writes letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to compare Dr. King’s teachings with his recent experiences. Meanwhile, tensions heighten for Justyce as some of his classmates don’t understand racism, and the cop who arrested him is shot, setting off an explosive and heartbreaking chain of events that leads to Justyce’s character being defamed in the media. It’s a fast, honest, compelling look at current topics of racism, privilege, police brutality, and what it can mean to be black in America.
This novel blew me away, especially reading so soon after The Hate U Give. One of the wonderful things about it is that it has an easier readability than THUG, and therefore might have greater appeal to teens who might not be reading books currently, a gateway book. I would love to do a book club with this title. There is so much to discuss in its pages about current events and could be an opportunity for teens to talk about their own experiences in light of Martin’s teachings. Underlying themes that occur in Dear Martin are:
- white privilege – as evidenced frequently by Blake and Jared (the KKK costume and the Equality Brigade) and pointed out by SJ.
“When they get to Manny’s car and Blake pulls on the hood and raises his arm in the Nazi salute, Justyce knows the train he just hopped on is headed downhill in a major way. It occurs to him that the moment he said he was cool with the whole thing, he cut the brake lines and completely surrendered his power to stop it.”
“Whatever, Jared. Bottom line, nobody sees us [white teens] and automatically assumes we’re up to no good. . .We’ll never be seen as criminals before we’re seen as people.” – SJ
- the viewpoint that some people in the black community have towards other people of color or in not noticing and combating racism
“There are people who don’t see a man with rights when they look at me, and I’m not real sure how to deal with that. Being treated the way I was and then hearing Jared insist there’s not a problem? And then hearing Manny agree with him? It sucks, Martin. It really does.” – Justyce
- the acceptance or defeatism of some in the black community of the consequences of racism
“Why try to do right if people will always look at me and assume wrong?” – Quan
“There’s no escaping the Black Man’s Curse.” – Quan
- affirmative action and the potential for retaliation
- police brutality
- media bias
…and so much more. SJ and her family were great examples of how white people should act and support people of color when they speak out. I loved this book, and could have read more, but I understand Nic was told to cut much of it. This is a great book to challenge your own viewpoints in reading because only then can we see through others’ eyes and learn empathy. If you only read a few books this year, this is a great touchstone book for current society.
Interviews with Nic Stone: