Dear Martin, by Nic Stone Young Adults
17 year old Justyce McAllister discovers what it feels like to be just that when he tries to help his girlfriend – who does not deserve his assistance; she’s drunk off her head and is trying to drive home, and strictly speaking, she’s not his girlfriend because they broke up for the 50th time. Still, he comes running to help just the same, because he’s kind and decent and doesn’t want to see her wrapped round a lamp-post – and can’t believe what happens to him next: a passing police car stops, the officer slams Justyce against the car and handcuffs him ‘for trying to hijack the young woman’s car’, then takes him to the station to spend the night in the cells. No amount of pleading can change the officer’s mind, Justyce looks too menacing - in his prep-school hoodie.
For Justyce is on a boarding scholarship at an exclusive school preparatory to entering Yale, for which he has been accepted for the very high grades that he worked extremely hard to earn: this nightmare should not be happening! But he is not released until his classmate’s Attorney mother exerts her considerable influence to have all ‘charges’ dropped. He has been taught a lesson: a lesson in racial profiling and humiliation, and he has no idea how to process this unfamiliar and bitter new knowledge.
Until he decides to write to Martin – Doctor Martin Luther King, great, martyred upholder of the dreams and aspirations of equality that all black people long for; if Justyce starts a long-running letter/diary to Martin, perhaps it will help him to make sense of what has happened to him, and not become embittered and discouraged, as so many of his friends are. And this solution works for a time, until he comes up against more racial walls in class – ‘how come Justyce has been accepted into Yale, when my grades are the same, but because I’m white I’ve been deferred!’ and reverse racism from his Mum, who is furious he has a white girlfriend. She has not raised him to Love the Enemy!
Much worse things have to happen before Justyce realises some essential home truths: there will ALWAYS be discrimination because of his colour. He will always have to work twice as hard as everyone else to prove that he deserves the goals he aims for; the trick is not to be defeated by that knowledge, but determined. Determined to carry on. FOUR STARS