I’ve been a fan of the TV show Grey’s Anatomy since the beginning. And while I’ve missed an episode or two throughout the 15 seasons, it never fails to make me laugh and cry and have lots of “feels.” One of the scenes that touched me the most was in last year’s “Personal Jesus” episode in which Dr. Bailey and her husband Ben give their son Tuck “the talk” about how to act if he’s ever approached by police. Since he’s black, his mom tells him, “Your only goal is to get home safely.” He “can’t climb through windows, throw rocks, play with toy guns and never, ever run.” It was an emotional conversation and illustrated the point that for people of color, it’s not a given that their children will return home safely or that police officers are there to protect them. Grey’s Anatomy was bigger than a television show on that night, and fiction can work in the same way. I think books provide a great way for us to learn and empathize with lives that are different from our own. After reading The Hate U Give last year, I kept seeing Dear Martin as recommended reading, so it seemed like another good opportunity to learn about the reality of race in America.
Raw, captivating, and undeniably real, Nic Stone joins industry giants Jason Reynolds and Walter Dean Myers as she boldly tackles American race relations in this stunning debut.
Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates. Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.
Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up—way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack.
I really wanted to like this book. It discusses real-life, important issues. It had such great reviews and hype. But…it just wasn’t done very well.
Dear Martin tells the story of Justyce McAllister, high school senior, as he questions what it means to be a young black man in a world where it’s always trying to bring you down. He might be from a rough part of town, but he’s going to make something of himself. He attends a fancy, mostly-white school and is Ivy-League bound. But week after week, he hears about kids who look just like him who are gunned down by police officers, and even experiences a run in with police himself. He starts writing letters to Martin Luther King, Jr. as a way to channel his anger and become more aware.
Early on, I realized that this is one YA book that actually feels young adult. There’s no subtlety or layers. The author leads us right to the point rather than allowing the reader to formulate questions and opinions. On top of that, nothing new is really brought to the table. It’s a collection of thoughts and arguments – that we’ve all heard before – with a loose story attached. I was quite unimpressed, but figured at only 200 pages, it was still worth it to power through. I’m glad I did because halfway through the story, the writing – or at least, the storytelling – gets much better. There’s a cohesive plot and the reader develops actual feelings for the characters. Basically, the second half of the book feels completely different than the first half.
At the end of the book, the author notes that she was interested in “examin[ing] current affairs through the lens of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s teachings,” however, I’m not sure how successful she was in this because she shares hardly any details about MLK. Where were the stories and speeches and examples of what he did? This would have been really useful considering the main character is writing to “Martin” and asking for his advice. Even the main character questions why he bothered to write to him: “What was my goal with the Be Like Martin thing? Was I trying to get more respect? (Fail.) Was I trying to be ‘more acceptable’? (Fail.) Did I think it would keep me out of trouble? (Epic fail.) Really, what was the purpose?” That was my question, too. The letter writing was a gimmick that didn’t really serve a purpose.
Despite my criticism of the book, I do think it could be important for a younger audience who may be new to thinking about race issues. For more experienced readers, I think there are better books to read about this topic.