Published by Listening Library on October 17th 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Pages: 224 •Format: Audio Book •Source: Overdrive
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 decided to try Dear Martin on audio because I had heard that it’s a short book that packs an emotional punch, and still being one to ease myself into listening to audiobooks regularly, I was eager to see how a vivid tale could be told in just four short hours. However, Dear Martin doesn’t disappoint and is by far the best contemporary audio book I’ve read so far, as the varied format kept me on my toes and the narrator does a phenomenal job telling the tragic yet extremely important tale of Justyce McAllister.
More and more YA books are tackling important social and political issues, making diversity a priority and expanding the point of views of characters. Like it’s popular predecessor The Hate U Give, Dear Martin weaves a tale from the injustices happening seemingly every day against people of color, especially by police, and crafts the narrative in a way that shows even someone who defies stereotypes can still be essentialized and racially profiled. Justyce is at the top of his class, Ivy League bound, kind, conscientious, and still despite these accolades and accomplishments is constantly kicked down by circumstances out of his control. Being inside Justyce’s head was really powerful and a great lens to listen through, especially as his narrative is broken up with news transcripts, articles, classroom debates, etc. This book also showed a LOT of different perspectives in a short amount of time (such as white characters who couldn’t see how their behavior was problematic, black characters who felt like they didn’t know how to socialize outside of white groups since they grew up in privileged schools/areas, parents being upset about their children dating characters of different races, etc). The book really showed how complex and multi faceted peoples’ opinions and perceptions about different races and colors was, and that insight was really important and I think makes this book one of the most unique that I’ve read.
Perhaps the defining trait of the novel are the letters that Justyce writes to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., titled “Dear Martin” (hence the book title’s name). Appearing at pivotal points throughout the narrative, they were extremely powerful as they showed Justyce’s small yet continued realizations about his classmate’s problematic behaviors and his growing frustrations with them, that eventually end in a tragedy that I don’t think most readers will anticipate. The plot twist is shocking and sad, however hearing Justyce’s commitment to try to embody Martin’s philosophies and actions to deal with racism and evoke change even in the face of grief and trauma was really inspiring and very thoughtfully done.
Overall: Dear Martin is a thoughtful and intense novel that makes every page matter, and packs a powerful punch despite its small size. Though it tackles a lot of important, large issues, it also really sheds a light on the microaggressions and ingrained biases that people have and that Justyce has to navigate on a daily basis.