Seeing as how this is Black History Month and given the turmoil throughout the United States especially in the past year over racial issues, this book is not only extremely timely but deeply thought-provoking. Anything good you’ve heard or read about Dear Martin is true; this is an amazing story. Justyce (love that name) McAllister, a young black student in Atlanta, Georgia, is on a path to create a solid life for himself — 17 years old, full scholarship to a fancy prep school, 4th in his class, captain of the debating team, heading for an ivy league law degree — but despite everything he has going for him, it doesn’t seem like he’s found his niche, a place where he belongs and is accepted, respected.
This lack of place is dramatically driven home to him late one night while trying to help his drunk ex-girlfriend get home safely. Justyce is profiled, arrested, tightly handcuffed, and kept overnight basically for wearing a hoodie. In an attempt to learn to deal with the emotions this deeply disturbing incident conjures up, Justyce decides to reread Martin Luther King’s teachings and begins a journal writing to him, telling him about his feelings, and questioning him about how to handle things. He begins to stop himself before speaking or reacting when something unsettling happens and asks himself, What would Martin do?
Despite all his efforts to stay out of trouble and cop the right attitude, Jus doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere or to get a handle things. A lot of this story takes place in his friend Manny’s basement hangout or in a class at school called Societal Evolution where the students sit in a circle with their teacher, Dr. Jarius Dray (Doc), who is also advisor to the debate team and Jus’ hero, and discuss weighty topics sometimes chosen by Doc, sometimes put forward by one of the students.
Manny comes from a wealthy family and has known the white kids in his class since kindergarten. He tries to fit in, lets attitudes and comments slip by, and considers these boys his friends. Jus comes from a poorer, gang neighbourhood where he was never accepted because of his constant reading and high grades but isn’t accepted at the new school by Manny’s white friends either. They both have a lot to deal with. When one of Manny’s friends delivers him an incredible racial insult, Manny loses it and he and Jus end up in a crucial confrontation that changes everything forever.
The characters in this story are very realistic as are the events as they unfold. It is about perceptions and embedded attitudes that complicate those already confusing teenage years of trying to figure out the opposite sex, resisting peer pressure, and accepting that sometimes even parents don’t get it right. There is a follow-up story that I will be reading soon. An excellent read for teens and older. Some profanity but don’t let that stop you. Awesome! * * * * *
Other books by Nic Stone: