Book review: “Dear Martin” is powerful and enthralling

Nic Stone’s enthralling debut novel, “Dear Martin,” gives a powerful and honest look at racism in America.


The original cover for “Dear Martin.”

“Dear Martin,” written by Nic Stone, is a brutally honest, captivating novel that expertly discusses and portrays racism in our society. Although the novel is Stone’s very first, I found myself thoroughly impressed by the way she simultaneously skirted through themes of racism and ethnic profiling while also creating raw, believable characters. Through a blend of classroom discussions, unsparing accounts of racism and well-crafted dialogue, Stone created a novel that not only gives off a clear message but also shows an accurate portrayal of the life of a black teenager in this day and age.

The book focuses on Justyce McAllister, who has just about everything going right in his life. He goes to an elite school, he’s a high-ranking member of the debate club and will attend Yale University. One day, an incident in which he is brutalized by a cop causes him to question racial issues in today’s society. He decides to start a project called “Dear Martin” where he writes a series of letters to the deceased Martin Luther King Jr. As he is tested by classmates and society, he only has one question: what would Martin do?

From the very beginning, Justyce proved himself to be an empathetic protagonist. There was a clear thought process behind every action he made, especially in times when he was subject to a great number of dilemmas over what choice he should make and how it would affect himself and those in his surroundings. He never refrained from speaking questions, and was direct with his thought processes. Despite any preconceived notions about his race, Justyce always did what he felt was not necessarily always the right choice but the best he could come up with.

In addition, the story’s further cast of characters are all well-written and thought out; each character feels like a real person from society, and they are all reflective of the attitudes people of all walks of life contain today. The dialogue and interactions between the novel’s characters felt natural, especially flowing well in the context of the story.

One character that stood out, in particular, was Manny. His character is practically the complete opposite of Justyce: he was born into a rich family, he generally refrained from hanging out with people of his own race and he didn’t bother questioning issues;  he always complied when his peers made racist remarks. However, as the story progresses, his character opens his eyes to problems in today’s society and begins to see the injustices clearly. The immense character development made Manny one of the most memorable characters and shows that even the most reluctant people can change.

The book’s chapters alternate between detailing Justyce’s encounters and his letters written to Martin Luther King. I particularly enjoyed reading the letters for multiple reasons. For one, they were able to draw parallels between what is going on today and how it is not that different than what happened during MLK’s time. Even though years upon years have passed, the letters clearly show how the issues that should’ve been resolved a long time ago still occur time and time again today.

These letters also add to Justyce’s character. The story portion of the novel is written in a third-person perspective, so while you get to learn and understand Justyce, you can’t get too much of a feel of his inner thoughts and feelings that he doesn’t portray to others. The letters, however, fill in gaps in readers’ understanding. 

The writing itself was generally another shining point. Stone’s writing style is straightforward and concise, describing everything as it is without overcomplicating the plot. It is written in a way that allows all kinds of audiences to understand it, even if you don’t consider yourself an avid reader. Whether she is writing a classroom discussion, or a gripping scene of slander, Stone handles all the content of the story in a thoughtful manner that never ceases to impress. The only complaint is the present-tense method in which she pens the non-letter scenes, which can disrupt the otherwise perfect flow of the story.

Stone handles all the content of the story in a thoughtful manner that never ceases to impress”

“Dear Martin” gives a thought-provoking look at society, and never shies away from demonstrating the issues that still exist today. I think that this book is a must-read for everyone because of its powerful messages and demonstrations; while the book specifically talks about racism in America, its themes can also apply to many other injustices in the world. With “Dear Martin,” Stone is looking to have a bright future in writing ahead of her in the literary field.