Dear Martin, Nic Stone

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Trayvon Martin. Michael Brown. Tamir Rice. Laquan McDonnald.  Quintonio LeGrier. Jordan Edwards. Christian Taylor. Tony Robinson. Kendrec McDade. Ramarley Graham. Antwon Rose Jr.

The names above are just a short list of the young black men who have been shot and killed by police officers (or George Zimmerman) in the last few years. It seems like we can't go a month in this country without someone (usually white, usually male) perpetrating an ex officio execution on some black man, for everything from petty crimes to entering their own apartment. Young adult novels are beginning to explore this topic, with books like On a Clear Day and The Hate U Give being two of the most recent examples. In that spirit comes Nic Stone's Dear Martin.

Justyce McAllister is an excellent student, one who escaped his rough neighborhood school for an elite private school, where he is one of a very few students of color. But his superior grade point average couldn't protect him from being racially profiled by the white police officer who put him in handcuffs for no reason. Trying to reconcile his identity as a "good" kid with his treatment by the police, he begins writing letters to Martin Luther King, Jr., using them as a journal for processing his feelings and basically asking "What would Martin do?". When his friend Manny is shot by an off-duty police officer, Justyce has to reckon with the way he is portrayed in the media. Even though he did everything right, it still wasn't enough to keep society from seeing him as a stereotype.

While not carrying quite the same emotional weight as The Hate U Give, Dear Martin does a good job of exploring many of the themes related to the impact of white supremacy on young men of color. It also does something that feels a bit irreverent, which is to honestly explore whether MLK's insistence on non-violence is actually the best way to affect change against a system that perpetrates violence against people of color as a regular part of the functioning of the state. I think that there are many young people who would relate to Justyce. His story demonstrates the challenges that youth of color face just existing in a world where who they are is less important than what they are perceived to be.

I'm hoping to use this novel as a literature circle option for an African-American lit class, and another teacher wants to use it with his leadership class as a way to talk about the importance of social justice. Regardless, this book should be in any well-stocked classroom library!

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