Upon realization that I was (unfortunately) not a lucky winner of her book during her NCTE session, I promptly opened up my Amazon app and ordered a copy. I spent a good portion of Thanksgiving morning reading Dear Martin. Seriously, this is a book you literally can’t put down. I was sad when it ended and I’m still processing everything that happened.
Synopsis (without spoilers!):
Justyce, a senior at a prestigious boarding school, is attempting to help his drunk ex-girlfriend late one night after a party. Despite his good intentions, a police officer makes the assumption (largely based on the color of Justyce’s skin) that Justyce is up to no good, cuffs him and hauls him away.
After this interaction with the law, Justyce decides to write letters to Dr. Martin Luther King to help him process what happened to him, and what is currently far-to-often ocurring with other black men (Justyce references a few of these cases).
Meanwhile, Justyce’s best friend, Manny, is trying to come to terms with his identity and the fact that some of his closest childhood friends are racist. Additionally, SJ, Justyce’s debate partner, proves to be more than a friend, which prompts Justyce to think about the role he plays in society even more.
Overall, Dear Martin is a must-read for teachers, students, ANYONE. Dear Martin exists, not as a fictional account, but as a bridge so that difficult conversations about police brutality, race, stereotypes, etc. can and do happen.
As an educator, some teachers shy away from literature, like Dear Martin, where sensitive topics (like race) are explored. Teachers, we need to do better. Educate yourselves. Look at your own privileges. Examine your biases. READ. Forge relationships with your students. Talk (really, TALK) to them. Listen. You will definitely learn a few things and you may even be forced to re-examine YOUR thinking.
Don’t just put this book in your classroom library. Read it with students and have real conversations. This book is too important for it to just sit on a shelf.