The topic of race relations is coming to a major forefront in young adult literature. (Not that it hasn’t always been present, but new books have been getting major press about it in recent months). One such book is Dear Martin by Nic Stone. Wanting to see how this book handled the topic and also having read and blogged about Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give in May 2017, I decided to see what direction Stone went.
Let’s start by talking about this book. Dear Martin by Nic Stone dives into the sticky world of race relations in America. Justyce McAllister is college-bound, hopefully, and finds himself torn between where he grew up and the school he now attends. A slew of other factors influence him: the fact that he’s on the debate team, his family, his friends, his teachers, his on-again/off-again girlfriend. All those factors dig at Justyce as he works to try to figure out what exactly he wants to get out of his life and what he feels he is entitled to in this life. Justyce is seventeen years old, the age when kids are told that they have to know what they want to do for the rest of their life. Picking a college, picking friends, picking a significant other, picking who you hang out with and what you do on a daily basis all directly influence your choices. All of those factors also directly influence how other people see you. Struggling to deal with episodes of police brutality and racial profiling that directly affect him, Justyce decides to write letters to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a way to try to figure out what Martin would do in his situation (Hence the title Dr. Martin, pretty self-explanatory). Justyce’s life seems to get worse and worse. No matter how he tries to better himself, there seems to always be someone bent on knocking him to the ground.
Watching Justyce’s life unfold throughout his letters to Martin and through the snippets of his life that readers are privy to, we gain a better understanding of the rough dichotomy that Justyce finds himself in. He constantly is left to wonder where he actually fits in, who he should hang out with, and why his actions and people’s opinions of him seem to be at odds some days. I found myself rooting for Justyce throughout this book and hoping that his life would continue to get better.
First thought after finishing Dear Martin? Oh man, I wish this book was longer. There is so much content jam-packed in this book that at times I was hoping for the author to expand just a little more. That said, this book was powerfully written and deals with tricky subjects in a way that the intended audience, young adults and kids in high school, would easily understand and relate to. Even though I was not the intended audience, I found myself deeply involved in this book and wondering how everything would turn out. I would recommend this book, but with the caveat that you read The Hate U Give, as well. The two fit so well together.
This book is also available in the following format:
The Arsonist by Sue Miller is my latest foray into audiobooks. Miller has weaved a suspenseful story full of family drama and community intrigue within a small New England town.
Frankie Rowley has returned to Pomeroy, New Hampshire, the small village and farmhouse where her family has always spent the summers. Frankie has worked in East Africa for the last 15 years, but came home after she realized that she has never really quite fit in over there. The adjustment back to the states is hard on Frankie, leaving her walking along a country road on her first night back. Waking up the next morning, Frankie discovers that a house up the road has been burnt to the ground. Fires keep popping up around the community, putting people on edge and dividing the town even further.
In addition to the community drama around the fires, Frankie’s mother Sylvia is becoming more concerned over her husband’s erratic behavior. He is forgetting more and more some days, while on others, he seems just fine. Frankie and her sister, Liz, are trying to help, but Liz has a family of her own to deal with now and is hoping Frankie will help relieve her stress. Frankie, herself, has fallen for Bud Jacobs, a Washington DC transplant to Pomeroy, who has taken over the town’s small newspaper. All of these relationships become even more entangled in a very small town under great stress due to all of the arson activity and the divide between the summer people and year-rounders.
The Arsonist is the second book that I’ve listened to where the author has been the narrator and the stories really benefit from the author’s telling. The author is able to truly tell how she wants the characters to talk and how she sees them interacting with each other. You also notice a distinct connection between the narrator and each character because the author cares more about and has a more vested interest in how the characters are being portrayed. Check this book out and let me know what you think!
This book is available in additional formats:
Southern Rites is a documentary that takes place in Montgomery County, Georgia. Gillian Laub, a photographer, first visited Montgomery County to photograph the town’s racially divided proms, gaining an insight into community tension. After photographing this, Laub’s story is published in the New York Times Magazine, which inadvertently gives the town unwanted notoriety and ends up forcing them to integrate their proms. Heading back one year later, Laub is not allowed to film the integrated proms and instead stumbles upon another story.
Laub ends up following two main events unfolding in Mount Vernon, GA: 1) an election campaign that the town hopes will lead to its first African-American sheriff and 2) the trial of white resident who is charged with murdering a young black man. Tension is high throughout the community and this documentary really gets to the heart of the problems. As Laub continues to investigate, multiple stories unfold surrounding the murder and each person affected by this tragedy shares their own personal feelings. Southern Rites travels along well-established racial lines in the community and shows how complex emotions and complicated truths are so well entangled. This documentary simultaneously highlights for readers how far we as a society have come, but also how far we still have to go in terms of racial understanding.