GUEST WRITER BRANDON LEBLANC RECOMMENDS DEAR MARTIN BY NIC STONE
It is only appropriate I share Nic Stone’s Dear Martin in February, Black History Month in both Canada and the United States, let alone during the current political climate.
Justyce McAllister is a young African-American who excels in academics and aspires to attend Yale after graduation. He participates in a debate club with a small group of friends, notably Jared, a white student with skewed views on race relations, and Sarah-Jane (SJ) Friedman, a confident speaker unafraid to challenge Jared in the club meetings. The story follows Justyce, his friend Manny, SJ, and Jared’s crew through a series of social situations and events in which discrimination rears itself, leading to tense, even violent incidents. From Justyce’s wrongful arrest, through a tasteless costume party in which a member of the group dresses as a Klansman, to a street confrontation, the reader is taken on a jarring and unsettling journey through the day-to-day life of a young black man trying to move beyond societal stereotypes without losing touch with his community.
Throughout the story, Justyce writes letters in his journal to Dr. King, presented in more of a conversational tone and handwritten-style font, where he is free to rhetorically ask Martin why he still has to endure racism decades later. From his friends’ aloof attitudes to his mother’s disapproval of his romantic interest in SJ, Justyce feels he has no one to whom he can turn.
The author presents a remarkable writing style. Typical of modern YA fiction, the perspective is present tense, a technique conducive to readers wishing to immerse themselves in the moment. Dialogue is often presented without tags, as though in a play—character name: spoken line. The debate sequences flow organically as a result. Stone’s style of writing should appeal to reluctant and enthusiastic readers alike.
Adolescents today have a general knowledge of Civil Rights, who the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was and how equal rights are not yet guaranteed. While many of our cultural icons are African-American/Canadian, there remains a lack of true understanding of the daily hurdles young black people face.
This story succeeds for precisely this reason. Young adult readers will invest in a narrative that relates to them. Stone masterfully conveys the complexities of race relations in a way young people from all cultures can understand. Most notably, the young characters reveal through talk what text books and lectures cannot. There is a lot of heart in this story; be advised you may find yours broken when it reaches its climax. As it should, before true understanding can be found.
Brandon LeBlanc is an English, French, and Social Studies teacher at Stanley Consolidated School.