Review: Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Rating: 5 stars
Release Date: October 17, 2017
Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers
Genre: young adult contemporary realistic fiction
Format/Source: hardcover, from the publisher for the Instagram tour
Status: standalone

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.

WOW WOW WOW WOW WOW. Seriously, this book is astonishing. Justyce's voice is powerful, the message of this book is powerful, and Nic Stone's writing is powerful. I'm calling it now: Nic is an author to watch.

Dear Martin, like Jason Reynolds's Long Way Down, is a extremely short and a super quick read. There weren't a lot of distractions in the text to overshadow Jus's story, but still, I felt each character was well defined and the story itself was fleshed out perfectly.  I thought it was a really interesting choice to treat some of the conversations as a play would, listed by each character, without dialogue tags and only including the most important actions (usually Justyce's). It's a risk, but in this case, it definitely panned out because it was like only the best, most essential words stayed. A bold style choice for sure and not one that I think every writer could pull off, but I felt like I could really concentrate on what each character was saying—or not saying—without being distracted by he said/she said and various filler movements.

What's so devastating about Dear Martin is that it's fiction... but it feels like it was pulled directly from the headlines. Every interaction in this book between Jus and the police and the media felt like they were pulled from any article about an interaction between a black boy or man and the cops and the resulting media scrutiny and character assassination. It's good to see media attention being confronted in these page as well as America's race problem because everything seems to figuratively blow up even more than the initial situation, and that's when people get doxxed and stalked and worse.

I really liked that Justyce had a great support system. Not only did he have great friends in Manny and SJ, his mom supported him, his friends' parents helped him, and his teacher encouraged him. Adults are so often non-factors in YA books, which is fine in other stories, but I think it's important to show variety, and that includes stories like this one with adults who are invested and present. I also think it's a good contrast between other characters in Dear Martin like Quan and the other members of Black Jihad. During one scene, Justyce meets with the leader of a gang and has this moment when he's captivated by the man's magnetism and charisma. Justyce's dad is dead, and during this scene readers can really see how Justyce wishes for someone to fill that role in his life. It was a close thing, how Justyce almost became one of the lost boys who became attached to the gang.

One frequent them throughout Dear Martin is learning how to speak up and speak out against small moments of injustice and discrimination before they become big moments, and I loved watching the characters individually learn this throughout the book. But it also speaks to someone's privilege in seeing the reactions to a character speaking out. SJ, who is a Jewish white girl, has no problem confronting characters like Jared about their micro (or not so micro) aggressions, and other than Doc telling her to tone down the language in class, SJ faces no serious repercussions. But for Justyce and Manny, two black boys, the stakes are higher. both face ridicule and harassment from the guys at school, and for Manny, those guys are his friends. There are also consequences for Manny's dad Julian when he's told he'll have to quit his involvement in the Justice for JAM movement or leave his job. As a white woman who is still learning and working on using my voice to speak out and also amplify others, this was really sobering. Because like SJ, even when I speak up, I'm probably never going to face the situations, the harassment, the threats Justyce, Manny, Julian, and real life black men and women will.

This book is amazing, and honestly, I could spend all day talking about how fantastic it was. Just trust me: it's phenomenal. Nic is an incredibly talented writer, and I'll be reading all of her work from now on.

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About the Author:
Nic Stone was born and raised in a suburb of Atlanta, GA, and the only thing she loves more than an adventure is a good story about one. After graduating from Spelman College, she worked extensively in teen mentoring and lived in Israel for a few years before returning to the US to write full-time. Growing up with a wide range of cultures, religions, and backgrounds, Stone strives to bring these diverse voices and stories to her work.

You can find her goofing off and/or fangirling over her husband and sons on most social media platforms as @getnicced.

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  1. FOr some reason I thought All the Way Down was a long book, I'll have to check it out!

    And yes, NIC IS AMAZING, I can't believe she managed to pack such a punch in 200 pages; I was sobbing.

    1. Long Way Down IS over 300 pages, but it's written in verse so it reads like a book half its size.

      Packing a punch is right! I generally prefer longer pages, but Nic didn't need them. The book is perfect as it is.

  2. I'm planning to read this book soon!