“You can’t change how other people think and act, but you’re in full control of you. When it comes down to it, the only question that matters is this: If nothing in the world ever changes, what type of man are you gonna be?” -Nic Stone, Dear Martin.
This year, one of my goals has been to include more diverse reads in my list, and in particular, I have been wanting to read books that tackle issues of race and gender. This book fits the bill for being about race. I haven’t read THUG yet, but I think this one often comes up as another one you should read if you like that one. Based on reviews I have read, this one is maybe a little rougher around the edges, but if that’s the case, then rough around the edges is something I apparently like. 🙂
I won’t include a synopsis of the whole story in this review, since I know you can find that on Amazon or Goodreads. The main point: this is a story from the point of view of a black teenage boy. And there simply aren’t many stories told from this point of view. Despite being a woman, I felt like Nic Stone did a great job getting into the head of a teenage boy. Our main character, Justyce, is trying to navigate growing up stuck between the world of his childhood and roots and that of the preppy nearly-all-white and wealthy high school he is attending. I chose to listen to this book on audio because I knew that the narrator, Dion Graham, has a voice I absolutely love, and I am so glad I made this choice. I think I would have liked the book just as much on paper, but the audio was definitely awesome!
The character development in this book is great. Justyce and Manny have a complicated friendship built on several layers, including both being black, both loving video games, and both going to the same pretentious high school. However, Manny has grown up in the lap of privilege while Jus comes from a tougher background. How they both react to the racial slurs and slights that are an everyday occurrence in their world yields a meaty and complicated exploration of race and prejudice and what we do about it. There are no easy answers delivered up on a platter, and I think this makes the book all the more authentic and relatable.
I also really enjoyed the exploration of Jus’s friendship (and maybe more) with SJ, a white Jewish girl he goes to high school with and who is his debate partner. Again, there is nothing simple about their relationship. However, Nic Stone keeps the interactions and quandaries grounded in the reality of what a teen mind really is, and how teenagers really deal with complicated emotions. There are some great jokes, gentle teasing, and terribly awkward moments, all of which serves to give the book a good dose of reality. Because of this realistic portrayal of what it feels like to be a teenager, both white and black, the book definitely hits hard and heavy–there’s no escaping into the thought of “well, this isn’t reality, so I don’t have to think about this stuff.” Folks, this is reality, and we ALL need to be thinking about these issues.
I cried during several parts of the story, and there are a lot of frustrating moments where I just wanted to shout. But I think that’s the point. The one thing I would say that I didn’t like about the book was the ending. It just all felt a little too easy, especially the final scene, where Justyce runs into his old school classmate, who has had some major revelations. I think Nic Stone took it a little too far as to what changes he has made in just a short time, and I found it somewhat unbelievable. But this was only one scene. I thought the other scenes were all well written and filled with the appropriate amounts of tension and emotion. The overall pacing of the story works quite well, and I absolutely loved Justyce’s letters to Dr. Martin Luther King throughout the book.
If you are looking for a book about a black teenager trying to find his way in a world that is most definitely against him, in a lot of very subtle and complicated ways, and a book that doesn’t take the easy way out but butts up against the uncomfortable realities of racism and prejudice in our current society, then this is the book for you. It’s also a great story about some American teenagers doing the best they can as they navigate their way into adulthood. It is a frustrating and sad book, but it is also a joyful book that is full of hope. I feel like my work exploring these issues is just beginning. I hope yours is too.
“You ever consider that maybe you not supposed to ‘fit’? People who make history rarely do.” -Nic Stone, Dear Martin