Let me get right to the point. This is one of the best YA books I’ve read in ages. Most YA these days is just drivel. Maybe it’s because I’m not in that age range anymore, but I feel like so much of it is watered down with nonsense. Finding a well-written book with meaning and heart is hard to find. But, this book has it all. I was so moved by the book’s first chapter that I decided to live tweet as I was reading, which I haven’t done in I don’t know how long.
Justyce is a black teenager from a single mom household. He goes to a very expensive private prep school. He doesn’t have money, but has great grades, a good head on his shoulders, and aspirations to be something great. But he is struggling with who he is and his place in the world. In the first chapter, he has a run-in with a police officer who gives Jus zero opportunity to speak, explain, or justify his actions. Jus was simply trying to help someone he cares about, and the officer jumped to conclusions and slapped Jus in cuffs. Sound familiar? This story draws from what is happening today and is relevant in so many ways.
Justyce quickly gets the situation resolved, but doesn’t forget what those cuffs feel like. He begins writing to Dr. Martin Luthur King, Jr. (hence the Dear Martin title) and you get some first person insight into Justyce’s life. The rest of the story is told in third person. There are several white kids in the book that are perfect representatives of white privilege and ignorance. There are a few conversations between these teens in class that just made me cringe because I’ve heard these words time and time again, whether it be in my own classroom, the hallways, or on the Internet. There are white people in Justyce’s life who, thankfully, aren’t ignorant and are very aware of their privilege, namely his debate partner, Sarah Jane and her family.
There are many things I want to say about the book’s plot, but I hesitate to give anything away. Let me just say that the book takes a turn that I didn’t want it to and it broke my heart. But what happens is today and now and relevant and current and impactful and powerful and honest and I could go on and on. At just over 200 pages, this is a book that is accessible to students who might not like to read because books can be intimidating. What the author, Nic Stone, has done is create a story that is meaningful to teenagers (all people really, but especially teens) today. The situations Justyce and his friends (and enemies, even) find them in are recognizable and probably ones that readers have already faced. Kids need to read this book. Teachers need to teach this book. Libraries need to purchase this book in multitudes. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.