Nic Stone, a New York Times best-selling author of young adult fiction, is a refreshing and calm voice who brings cohesiveness and understanding into a world fraught with division and racial injustice, not just among our youth, but to American society as a whole. During a time when there is a lot of uncertainty and fear ambushing all forms of media like a tsunami wave, it is surprising a publisher like Random House would take a chance and brave the tumultuous waters of racism, especially with a new author. However, there is little doubt that Stone’s ability to bring a difficult topic to the table in an inoffensive manner while encompassing a variety of racial profiling issues was a good decision by the publishing house.
The theme of Stone’s debut novel, Dear Martin, is centered around socioeconomic diversity and racial profiling derived by preconceived notions based on the color of an individual’s skin. Stone’s overarching theme dispels the myth of racial profiling occurring only below the poverty line and penetrates the thick veils cloaking bigotry against the middle and higher classes of Black America. The author also gives insight into racism that comes from within the Black American culture. Given that both have been an issue plaguing America since her inception, it is no wonder it is a bestseller.
Set in an Ivy League school, the author invites her readers into a wide array of diversity in Dear Martin. The setting, along with the main character Justyce McAllister’s background, supplies readers with a diverse cast of characters from multiple demographics from all classes and multiple races. These combined elements offer a better understanding of the racial issues the author is bringing to light in her novel to those readers who are often left as nothing more than spectators in a media driven world.
The plot is about a young African American youth who is wrongfully arrested when he attempts to keep his on-again, off-again intoxicated girlfriend from driving. After his arrest, he begins writing letters to the late Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. In a What Would Jesus Do type of scenario the main character poses the question, what would Martin do, whenever he faces a situation that he is not certain how to handle as we see here, “Every challenge I’ve faced, it’s been what would Martin do.” Small pieces of journalism from both local and national outlets involving racial profiling, move the plot along as the characters react to and debate among each other in one of their classes. Although the news stories are fiction, it is not hard to imagine that they could have been pulled straight from the headlines. To add depth to the plot the main character encounters prejudice attitudes from police officers, his Ivy League classmates, and his so-called friends from the hood. The plot deepens further when the author adds a little romance for Justyce in the form of Sarah-Jane, his debate partner who understands and supports him. However, she happens to be white, which poses conflict from his mother who warns Justyce to steer clear from dating a white girl. We see the internal war of white versus black waging within Justyce in this passage, “It’s quite the predicament: wanting to touch and hug and kiss a white girl after a white man shot him and killed his best friend.”
Stone’s use of third person, along with epistolary form should be noted, as it is the driving force of the story. This crossover offers the reader an inside and outside view from which to understand the main character’s world. Using such a tactic, keeps the reader from being an outsider looking in much like an ambulance chaser. Instead, the use of multiple writing forms cements the reader into Justyce McAllister’s world and his character as he navigates the day to day adversity he faces. The author’s creative use of these two applications is by no means new to fiction, but it does allow for a unique look into the racism plaguing and dividing America as well as excellent insight into the fears and trials our Black American youths face. Although the use of third person forms the bulk of the story, the letter episodes make this piece of fiction work to its fullest potential. A great example from the use of Justyce’s letters to Martin, is this line here, “Long story short, I tried to do a good deed and wound up on the ground in handcuffs.”
Throughout the story the language varies between well-educated, as one would expect from Ivy school students, to clipped slang found among the culture of youth, “Homeboys’ got no appreciation for a lyrical genius such as Deuce Diggs.” The journalism pieces are what readers would expect from the news, “In our top story, tragedy in Oak Ridge this afternoon, where two young men in an SUV were shot at a traffic light.” From Justyce, a youth from an impoverished neighborhood attending a top-notch school, to the police officers, to the hoodlums, to the cultured educated teacher and the CEO parents, Stone perfectly captures the tone and style of each of her diverse characters with appropriate external dialogue like this piece between Justyce and an acquaintance in jail.
“Yeah. Black Man’s Curse. World’s got diarrhea and dudes like us are the toilet.”
She even dips into the voice of reason with several supporting characters such as Justyce’s high school teacher and his best friend’s father. This piece of dialogue from Mr. Julian after Justyce and his best friend face a difficult situation is a prime example of a sound thoughts, “There’s no predicting people’s actions, but you can be prepared to face certain attitudes.”
The internal dialogue is just as crisp, clear, and powerful, and it is written as if the reader is having a dialogue with the main character.
The author’s willingness to write about the elephant in the room in a unique setting with dynamic, diverse characters and powerful dialogue makes Nic Stone’s debut a stellar novel. It also promises more such works from this author in the future.