Dear Martin

Book review by
Terreece Clarke, Common Sense Media
Dear Martin Book Poster Image
Boy faces racial profiling in powerful, realistic tale.

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 15+
Based on 2 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Dear Martin offers an education in empathy and the dynamics of life behind the headlines. Readers understand both the fear and anger that an unfair encounter with the police can bring and also see what it's like to be in a media storm. When Justyce is involved in an incident, the narrative quickly becomes antagonistic, with the media looking for and being supplied with unflattering stories and videos that question his character yet have little relevance to the incident.

Positive Messages

Despite the seriously unfair and racist incidents in the novel, there are plenty of positive messages here, especially about being open and emotionally honest in friendship, even if it means calling out your friend sometimes.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Justyce and Manny have a thoughtful approach to both friendship and day-to-day issues. They stumble, but in their recovery they learn important lessons. Justyce knows he's justified in his anger at his police encounter and the daily aggressive behavior of his "friends" at his new school, but he also understands that reacting badly will jeopardize his future. In his Dear Martin letters, he tries to reconcile his feelings and experiences with the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King. The relationship between Justyce and Manny is much more open and emotionally true than is normally shown in novels about teen boys. They discuss fears, hopes, dreams, and issues and call each other out when necessary. Justyce's relationships with the adults in the novel, particularly a teacher/mentor, offer great insight to the important role adults can play while allowing kids to find their way. 

Violence

Two interactions with police are aggressive, one ending in a shooting. Boys get into fights and we see punches thrown and bloodied lips and face cuts as a result. A police officer is killed -- we don't see it happen -- and there's mention of unarmed young black males being shot by police.

Sex

Standard boy-girl affections and feelings, including a boy talking about loving a girl's butt and body, then later discussing another girl's legs. Boys discuss one boy's popularity with girls, and a boy wants another friend to intervene in getting a girl to have sex with him. That doesn't happen. There are also brief kisses between a boy and girl.

Language

Racial epithets, including the "N" word and "nigga," also mild name-calling and hurtful racial stereotypes expressed. Strong language includes "damn," "ass," "f--k," "s--t," "a--hole," "a--clown," "dips--t," and "bulls--t."

Consumerism

A few brands like Range Rover, PlayStation, and Medal of Honor are mentioned to set the scene.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens drink, smoke (both cigarettes and weed), a girl gets drunk and tries to drive her car, a teen boy drinks at a party and has a hangover the next day. An adult is described as an alcoholic.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Nic Stone's Dear Martin tells the story of an Ivy League-bound African-American student named Justyce who becomes a victim of racial profiling. He struggles to reconcile the fact that he's a "good kid" with suddenly being in police handcuffs. In the months that follow, Justyce confronts injustices and micro-aggressions he experiences at his mostly white prep school and the fallout from his brief detainment. There's violence, including boys getting into fights with punches thrown and lips bloodied, police brutality, a teen shot, an officer killed offstage, and racist experiences. There's some swearing (including "f--k" and "s--t"), teen drinking, and grief. Parents should be prepared to talk about current events, the Black Lives Matter movement, underage drinking, and stereotypes.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byjessica p. March 28, 2018

Incredible View of Reality

This book had me at the edge of my seat. This gives a great look into racial injustice, friendship, and gripping reality. I recommend it to any teen that comes... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byAbigail18817 October 3, 2018

Dear Martin,

This book I had to stop on page 5. The language was just too much!! I am sad I didn't get to enjoy it like others might have.
Teen, 13 years old Written byJcozzi September 2, 2018

What's the story?

In DEAR MARTIN, Justyce McAllister attends an exclusive private school with mostly white students. He's on the debate team, has some of the best grades in his class, and is certain he's headed to Yale. Then one night changes his life and puts him on a path that has him questioning why things happen and what he can do to change them. His Dear Martin project, in which he tries to live like Martin Luther King Jr., is put in jeopardy from the moment he's put in handcuffs. Tested by racist classmates, skeptical friends from his former neighborhood, and a rain of bullets, Justyce finds himself a target in the battle over police brutality and race. What would Martin do?

Is it any good?

Endearing and painfully realistic, this could be a news story any day in America. Dear Martin author Nic Stone manages not only to maintain the characters' humanity in what could easily become a paint-by-number pulled-from-the-headlines story, but also breathes a realness into each character so they become just like people readers already know. Stone moves beyond character archetypes into fully realized humans with a depth and fragility that's sometimes lost in current-events novels. From seeing the micro-aggressions and posttraumatic stress brought on by a frightening encounter with the police, to experiencing the everyday details of first relationships and parental expectations, readers slip easily into Justyce's mind and feelings, truly going on this journey with him.

Dear Martin is told in an alternating mix of third-person narration, script-like dialogues, and letters to Martin Luther King Jr. It's well-written, honest, and a gut punch that leaves readers thinking about it for weeks after reading it. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how the media portrays the Black Lives Matter movement and unarmed victims of police violence in Dear Martin. Is there a pattern? Can you pick out "coded language"? What does it mean when commentators in the media use that language?

  • Have you ever been afraid to lose friends because you disagreed with them? How did you handle it?

  • What prejudices might you have against other people or religions? What generalizations do you have about others? How can you learn more about people to avoid stereotypes?

Book details

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