When I heard that Dear Martin, by Nic Stone, had been banned by the Columbia County (GA) School District, I added it to my To Be Read pile. As author Jodi Picoult pointed out in a Twitter thread, “When your books are banned, it makes kids want to read them more.”
From the publisher:
Justyce McAllister is a good kid, an honor student, and always there to help a friend—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. 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.
Dear Martin is a relatively short book, with an interesting structure. It weaves Justyce’s journal entries (written as letters to Dr. Martin Luther King) with narrative that takes place throughout his senior year of high school.
We see Justyce grappling with questions of race on many different fronts – at home, at school, in his neighborhood, in his friendships and romatic relationships, and with the criminal justice and judicial systems.
Dear Martin provides a fair amount of commentary on White Privilege and offers multiple perspectives on the topic.
It was difficult to see the injustice portrayed in Dear Martin, but it’s an important window into the real experience of people of color in our schools and communities. I could never fully understand what it’s like to navigate our world as a person of color. Books like Dear Martin shine a spotlight on our society and offer readers like me the opportunity to gain a greater understanding of the kind of discrimination I will never have to experience.
Instead of banning Dear Martin, school districts should look at using the novel as a great starting point for a discussion about how close our society is to the ideal of “all men are created equal.” That’s a discussion that happens early in the book, but which is far-too-often absent in our schools.