DEAR MARTIN, Nic Stone’s debut novel, gives a fresh perspective to the race issues prevalent in the United States today.
The main character of Nic Stone‘s debut novel Dear Martin is a seventeen-year-old black male named Justyce McAllister. Justyce is from a rough part of Atlanta. On the surface, Justyce and I have very little in common – after all, I’m a twenty-something white girl from a Midwestern suburb – but that’s the whole point of Dear Martin: to help readers see the other side, no matter what their background might be.
Nic Stone does this very well. Dear Martin was written in reaction to “protests over the shooting death of Michael Brown in Missouri, the choking death of Eric Garner in New York, Michael Dunn’s second trial and murder conviction in the shooting death of Jordan Davis in Florida,” as Stone explains in the forward to the novel. It must have been tempting (and it would have been easy) to show only one side of the story. However, in Justyce, Stone provides a narrator who tries to see all sides of the story. Even at the end of the book, Justyce isn’t sure how he feels. He doesn’t think that he knows all of the answers. But he does have hope.
This was not an easy book to read, but it’s probably the most important book I’ve read in ten years. Justyce and his peers Manny (black), SJ (white/Jewish), and Jared (white) wrestle with the issues of race in vastly different ways. Manny is best friends with Jared and doesn’t speak up as often as he should against Jared’s racial slurs. SJ is the opposite, very aware of her privilege and not afraid to get loud and angry with Jared about it. Jared is convinced that he’s in the right, and Justyce just isn’t sure what to think or do. In an attempt to start figuring it out, he starts writing letters to Martin Luther King, Jr. after he is detained for no reason by a white police officer. In his first letter, he writes,
Last night changed me. I don’t wanna walk around all pissed off and looking for problems, but I know I can’t continue to pretend nothing’s wrong. Yeah, there are no more ‘colored’ water fountains, and it’s supposed to be illegal to discriminate, but if I can be forced to sit on the concrete in too-tight cuffs when I’ve done nothing wrong, it’s clear there’s an issue. That things aren’t as equal as folks say they are.
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.
If there’s one flaw with this book, it’s that the timeline of events is sometimes hard to follow. From chapter to chapter, it’s unclear how much time has passed. But that flaw pales in comparison with Dear Martin’s strengths: Justyce is an honest, likeable narrator with a distinctive voice, and the other characters represent people at all parts of the spectrum. Justyce’s mother was one of the biggest surprises to me in the novel. I won’t spoil the other surprises for you, but I will say this: whenever you think you know what’s going to happen, everything gets turned on its head very quickly.
Dear Martin is worth a read, and I highly recommend it. Pre-order your copy today at Amazon.com or find it on the shelves of your local bookstore October 17th.