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:
April is National Letter Writing Month!
In this age of email and texting and snapchat – one more transitory than the next – the idea of sitting down and writing a letter – with a pen! and paper! – seems quaint and a waste of time. But think about how you feel when you receive a handwritten note, something physical that you can hold in your hand, evidence that someone cared enough to take a few moments and let you know they were thinking about you. There’s a need for the quick and ephemeral, but that doesn’t mean that we have to abandon something more permanent. And who doesn’t like to get something special in the mail, even if it’s just a “hello, how are you?”
Write_On, which began in 2014, is a campaign created “to promote joy, creativity, expression, and connection through hand-written correspondence” and challenges you “to write 30 letters in 30 days during April…” Sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it?
You don’t have to write long, angsty letters – just a quick hello is fine. And you don’t need special stationary or cards. Write_On offers a starter “kit” but it’s completely optional. Also, postcards are completely ok. And you don’t have to mail a card, you can always hand deliver!
Interested in trying but not sure where to start? Write_On has lots of encouragement and resources.
Don’t know who to write too? Chronicle Books has a great article about the importance of letter writing and a nice long list of people you might write to (Hint: notice “a librarian” is on the list and I love to get mail. You can write to me at Davenport Public Library, 321 Main St, Davenport, Iowa 52801)
I’m not going to commit myself to the full 30 days this year, but I am going to try to write a few more quick notes this month. It feels great to get letters, but it’s also pretty awesome to send them too!
It is easy sometimes to focus on the things that are happening just to us. With the growing prevalence of different forms of social media, people begin to present only the good things that happen in their lives while sweeping the bad out of the way. This results in the feeling that bad things only ever happen to us and everyone else is living a golden life. Sometimes we just need a reminder that we are not alone in experiencing rejection and for me, Other People’s Rejection Letters edited by Bill Shapiro, helped me remember that bad things also happen to other people.
In this book, Shapiro looked for rejection letters from family, friends, and even sent a request out to reporters to help him dig up some letters from across the country. Identifying information in some of the letters have been changed to protect the person they are about, but the essence of the letters still remains. Shapiro has chosen to present these letters in their original formats, as emails, handwritten words, text messages, and others. The subject matter careens around from break-up messages, book rejection letters, hurt letters to or from parents, job rejection notices, and even art gallery rejections. Shapiro includes rejection letters from everyone ranging from the famous to the not-so-famous. If a certain letter catches your eye, check out the Postscript section at the end of the book where Shapiro delves into the story behind some of the letters and what has happened to the recipients and senders since.
While a collection of rejection letters might seem depressing, this book serves as a reminder that we truly cannot succeed unless we push ourselves out into the world with the knowledge that we must get rejected in order to find our place. After all, it’s just like Marilyn Monroe said, “Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.”
In today’s world, it’s not uncommon to see many people concentrating more and more on their screens and less and less on the people in front of them. This sad fact hit Hannah Brencher when she moved to New York right after she graduated from college. As she was exploring her new home, she discovered that instead of the warm and welcoming place she expected it to be, she was surrounded by people who knew exactly what they wanted to do, who knew exactly where they needed to be, and who were not the least bit concerned about a young girl who was just trying to figure things out and looking for help.
Feeling somewhat defeated one day at the subway station, she saw an old woman who seemed to be in a similar lonely situation. Brencher was drawn to the woman and could not look away. Staring at her, she remembered how her mother used to write her love letters and how that simple piece of paper always made her feel better because that meant someone else understood and cared about you. She decided then and there to write the woman a love letter. Sitting curled up on the train, Brencher hurriedly scrawled a note to this woman, wrote “If you find this letter, it’s for you…” on the front, and dropped it. Feeling better, she began leaving love notes all over the city and eventually created the blog The World Needs More Love Letters.
Seeking help when her inbox reached over 400 requests for love letters, she created a campaign that you can subscribe to join to write love letters to perfect strangers. If You Find this Letter: My Journey to Find Purpose Through Hundreds of Letters to Strangers is a memoir Brencher wrote describing her love-letter writing journey in her new home, how she began to feel more connected to the people around her, and how this simple letter writing campaign has helped her restore her belief in the goodness of people.
One decision can alter a life forever – turning left instead of right, stopping instead of going straight home, holding onto a piece of information. That a life can be saved or shattered by the smallest gestures is movingly illustrated in The Postmistress by Sarah Blake.
Set during the early stages of World War II when London is staggering under the relentless German bombing from the Blitz and America is teetering on the verge of entering the war, The Postmistress looks at how simple decisions change and connect the lives of three women. Frankie works for Edward R Murrow in London, reporting on how the bombing is affecting the people and their lives. Newlywed Emma Trask, just arrived in a small Cape Cod town, waits for her doctor husband, who has gone to London to volunteer. And the town’s postmistress, Iris James, holds onto a crucial piece of information that will impact all of them.
The scenes set in London and Europe are especially good; Blake brilliantly evokes the atmosphere of the Blitz where panic gradually gives way to resignation, and death is random and arbitrary. Frankie’s journey through Europe (as an American she is still able to travel through German-occupied countries) is tense and heartbreaking and terrifying. I felt that the parts of the book that are set in Cape Cod are not as strong – less action, less immediate – and that the ending suffered because of this. However, many readers felt differently; this book is worth reading to find out how you feel.
Mother’s Day is quickly approaching — May 10th, in fact. No doubt most of you have already planned your brunches and bouquets in celebration of dear old Mom, and those are always appreciated. Still, when I think back over the years, the mother’s day gifts that I most loved were those which were homemade: the cards with crayon pictures, the lilacs picked fresh from the garden, the attempts at breakfast in bed. Still, one thing I never did for my own mom (or mother-in-law) was to write a thank you letter. Now that they are both gone, I’m wishing I had. Wishing that I’d worried less about fixing a fancy meal with the good china and the white tablecloth in the dining room, wishing I’d spent less time looking for some sentimental card at the Hallmark store, and wishing instead that I had taken a few moments to write down in my own words how I felt. To say thank you, to share a funny story, even, perhaps, to tease a little, but just doing it would show I cared.
If you think you might like to write your own letter to Mom, here are some books that might give you some inspiration:
I Love You, Mom! A Celebration of our Mothers and Their Gifts to Us. This includes essays from celebrities like Larry King and Daisy Fuentes.
I Am My Mother’s Daughter: Making Peace with Mom Before it’s Too Late by Iris Krasnow.