Codes for Reviews

First Initial (Overall Rating):
E = Exceptional
VG = Very Good
G = Good
F = Fair
NR = Not Recommended

Second Initital (Reading Level):
A = Average Reading Level
E = Easy
M = Mature

“The views expressed are of individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of their respective institutions.”

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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Dear Martin

Dear Martin
By Nic Stone
Narrated by Dion Graham
Published by Listening Library
ISBN: 1101939494
October 17, 2017

This was a trenchant and incisive yarn that ran the gamut of emotional peaks and valleys. From rib-grabbingly funny to heartsomely somber, writer Nic Stone has managed to wring a rich and textured story that should keep young audiences captivated from word one. It’s a narrative that confounds expectation and tackles admirably some of the pressing issues that are but all too relevant today. It’s a dazzling work that is sensitive to a multitude of contemporary controversies and should spark a windfall of thoughtful discussion among teen readers.

The story follows Justyce McAllister, a bright and clear-eyed senior trying his best to navigate the slings and arrows of adolescence. It’s hard enough for a teen to wrestle with schoolwork, social life, and the other difficulties part and parcel with high school, he also must struggle with some pretty profound racial and societal questions. He becomes deeply disoriented when he himself is the victim of racial profiling and he begins to falter when it comes to understanding his own sense of identity and class affiliation. He finds solace and guidance in the teachings of his historical mentor, Martin Luther King Jr, desperately trying to make sense of the racial tensions and inequalities around him. Through a series of epistolary missives he writes to Dr. King, he undergoes a head-to-toe personal transformation and comes out the other side of the novel a changed person.

It’s certainly a page-turner. I was hanging on each word and found myself at the last page with alarming swiftness. It’s structurally sound and has ample narrative velocity. The characters are fully fleshed out and nothing is rushed or under-developed. The writer manages to capture a tone that is exceedingly listen-eable and strikes the ear true. There’s a je ne sais quoi musicality to the dialogue that is dulcet and alluring from beginning to end.

The themes are certainly age-appropriate and should provide a wealth of discussion points for any Current Events class worth their salt. Themes of racial inequality, affirmative action, and tacit discrimination are all subjects that are broached elegantly and kneaded into the narrative masterfully. These struggles and difficult questions really coax the best out of the primary and secondary characters and make them fully realized and multi-layered figures by the novel’s culmination. The character development is top-notch. We sympathize and identify with these characters. Very much so. We celebrate with them during the highs and grieve together during the lows. And all arrive at a better understanding of the issues chapter by chapter.

All said, a doozy of a YA novel. Inexplicably by-the-book and out-of-the-box somehow. A wholehearted recommend.

Tommy Bui, Inglewood Public Library

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