Publisher: Crown Books For Young Readers.
What a refreshing YA novel. Dear Martin (2017) follows Justyce McAllister, a black senior in a prestigious high school who is bound for university. He, however, is from a rough neighbourhood. Throughout the novel, he and his best-friend, Manny, have encounters with the police and law enforcement, including being taken to court. The novel is an interrogation of race, the justice system, class, and how they all intermingle and affect one another.
First of all, Nic Stone does a wonderful job working within the frame of a YA novel. Her writing is accessible to younger readers without backing away from tough subjectivity. Sometimes with YA, characters can be too perfect or unrealistic. Dear Martin is filled with realistic characters who make mistakes, who are given flaws, who are allowed to be angry, anxious, or arrogant.
Very much like the movie and TV series, Dear White People, this novel interrogates the inconsistencies with how white and black people are treated by the police and by the justice system. The court case is exemplary of that. Nic Stone also discusses race in terms of college attendance, comparing white and black candidates as well as middle-class versus working-class black students. She engages with contemporary racial politics and adds a lot of nuance to the discussion.
The real strength of the piece is that Nic Stone doesn’t give a bright happy ending. There are highs and lows throughout the narrative; there is devastation but also hope. The novel suggests that race is a continued struggle. It is not an issue that will or can be solved overnight, but gradually it can be improved. Justyce, the protagonist, writes letters to Martin Luther King Jr. so the narrative is entrenched in a realistic portrayal of racial struggle in societal injustice.
A definite recommended novel for an introduction to racial politics in contemporary society, for both teenagers and adults alike.