Dear Martin by Nic Stone is a timely and important fictional account of the kinds of news stories we hear all too often in the United States lately. Justyce McAllister is a brilliant young man who is mistaken for a criminal and who witnesses one of the worst injustices imaginable. The two incidents cause him to question himself, his place in the world, and his long-held beliefs about race, privilege, opportunity, and justice.
To cope with his thoughts and emotions after the fist incident, where Justyce is brutalized by a Latino police officer, he begins to write letters to Dr. Martin Luther King. The letters are both explorations of himself and questions about society. These letters are interwoven into the story of Justyce’s life, including his growing struggles at school, where he had been at the top of his class and quickly headed to the Ivy League, as well as his difficulties in love, confusions about place and race, and stresses between himself and his best friend, another black teenager who responds differently to the racial tensions surrounding them.
At the heart of this novel are the teachings of Dr. King and Malcolm X. The question of when it is necessary to act or to listen, to proceed with nonviolent resistance, or to radicalize for necessary change. To be peaceful or to rage. What do we do when our own mother tells us we cannot love the person we love simply because of the color of her skin? What do we do when our lifelong friends’ racism becomes more and more obvious, and troubling? How do we choose an identity when we are split between two worlds and do not really belong to, or are accepted by, either one? How do you deal with the pain of discovering the world is not what you thought it was and that your place in it is more precarious than you ever realized?
So much of what is happening in the world, and in our country specifically right now, is both reflected in and articulated by Nic Stone’s honest, biting, dangerous, beautiful coming-of-age story. Justyce McCallister is so many of us, and so many young people we know. And yet his is a story that continues, though we know it shouldn’t, and goes unspoken and unattended, despite the attentions we pretend to give it. Stone’s novel, like Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give, is a modern-day must-read.
Final Verdict: 3.5 out of 4.0.