by Nic Stone
Crown, 2020. 266 pages.
Review written November 5, 2020, from a library book
Here’s a powerful novel about an ordinary black teen caught in the school-to-prison pipeline. This is billed as a “companion novel” to the author’s earlier award-winning book Dear Martin. I haven’t read the first book (though I’m planning to fix that), and I quickly got completely absorbed in this one, so I think they’re correct in not calling it a “sequel.”
The book is told from the perspective of a boy named Quan who’s in prison waiting for a trial date. We don’t find out why he’s locked up until about halfway through the book. He’s writing letters to a friend named Justyce. Justyce is the one who wrote the letters in the earlier book, Dear Martin.
In between the letters, we get the story of Quan’s life and how it almost felt inevitable that he ended up getting locked up. We learn about his difficult family situation but how he found family with a gang.
I’ll tell you right up front that this book ends with a hopeful outcome. It would be heart crushing if it didn’t. The really awful part is that almost feels unrealistic. The author herself confronts this in a note at the back:
It is also unlikely (unfortunately) that Quan would have such a solid team of people – friend, caseworker, therapist, teacher, and attorney – rallying around him.
Which was the hardest thing of all about telling this story: knowing the most fictional part is the support Quan receives.
But I think we can change that, dear reader. No matter how young or old you are, we all have the power to positively impact the people around us before they get to the point Quan did. Sometimes all it takes to bring about a shift in direction is knowing there’s someone out there who believes you’re valuable. That you have something positive to offer the world.
It was poignant for me reading this book on Election Day 2020 and writing this review before the results have been determined. But this book itself is a small way to make progress in treating more young people like valuable human beings, no matter the color of their skin. I want to encourage everyone to read this book. Oh, and did I mention? It’s a great story, too.
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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.
What did you think of this book?