Rummanah Aasi
 Vernell LaQuan Banks and Justyce McAllister grew up a block apart in the Southwest Atlanta neighborhood of Wynwood Heights. Years later, though, Justyce walks the illustrious halls of Yale University and Quan sits behind bars at the Fulton Regional Youth Detention Center. Through a series of flashbacks, vignettes, and letters to Justyce--the protagonist of Dear Martin--Quan's story takes form. Troubles at home and misunderstandings at school give rise to police encounters and tough decisions. But then there's a dead cop and a weapon with Quan's prints on it. What leads a bright kid down a road to a murder charge? Not even Quan is sure.

Review: Dear Justyce is a companion novel to Nic Stone's extremely successful debut novel Dear Martin. Both books could be read independently of each other. In Dear Justyce, Stone turns her critical eye to the broken and injust criminal justice system. Though Quan and Martin were both raised in the same neighborhood and came from fractured family homes, their lives were led in two completely different directions: Martin to an Ivy school and Quan from the school to prison pipeline. 
  With his father in prison, Quan works hard to excel in school, avoids his mother’s abusive boyfriend, and has the added responsibility to raise and protect his younger siblings. Fast-forward to the present is an incarcerated Quan, remembering the day his father was arrested two years after that meeting. While in custody, Quan writes to Justyce at Yale. Through "snapshots" and letters we learn the circumstances and decisions that led to Quan's arrest as well as his tumultuous friendship with Justyce. When Quan professes that he didn't commit the crime for which he was incarcerated, Justyce becomes committed to clearing his name. 
  Through Quan, we see not just an incarcerated Black youth, but as a whole, humanized person with their trauma, hopelessness, and awareness of the impact of racial disparities in their lives and how it shapes their future. Unlike Dear Martin, I had a hard time with the narrative structure of the book. Though I understand Stone's purpose, I felt the constant back and forth of the timeline took me out of the story and I was often confused as to when the event was taking place. I found Quan's letters to be powerful and compelling much more than the fairy-tale like ending of Quan's fate (which is incredibly heartbreaking to think of it that way and it is addressed in an author's note). Once again Justyce can be seen as the 'exceptional' Black man and his ability to help Quan needed a suspension of disbelief. Though I am happy with the uplifting ending, I don't think it would have made a stronger impact if Stone chose to stick with gritty reality. 
  I also wanted to point out having the gang be named "Black jihad" made me feel incredibly uncomfortable as a Muslim reader.  Jihad is often defined as 'holy war' in western media. Jihad simply means struggle. To use jihad as part of a gang name is to perpetuate the ideology that Islam and violence are intertwined, though that might have not been Stone's intention.  Like Dear Martin, I did wish the secondary characters were a bit fleshed out. Overall Dear Justyce has a great message, but for me it is not as strong as Dear Martin.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language, allusions to domestic abuse, and trauma. Recommended for Grades 9 and up.

If you like this book try: Punching in the Air by Yusef Salaam and Ibi Zoboi, Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, This is My America by Kim Johnson, The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore
1 Response
  1. I agree that this book wasn't as strong as Dear Martin, but I do think it will do well with YA readers. And, I also agree that using Jihad wasn't good.

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