review: Dear Justyce

title: Dear Justyce
author: Nic Stone
date: Crown/Random House; 2020
main character: Vernell LaQuan Banks Jr. (Quan)
YA realistic fiction

Nic Stone is a native of Atlanta Georgia and a graduate of Spelman College. She’s spent much of her professional life working with teens from a variety of cultures and backgrounds. In her author’s note to Dear Justyce, Stone describes many of the youth she met while researching for this work of fiction. She describes the similarities of their stories and their lives and she closes the note by saying, “Thank you for reading, and please don’t forget: you are wildly important and have a lot to offer no matter how you feel. Resist when the world tries to convince you otherwise.” (263-4)

In her novel, Stone manages to write in a voice that delivers that same message, that tells readers “I got you”, without ever speaker directly to them. You kinda know Quan is going to be OK and dear reader, you can be, too. It’s evident that in addition to researching young people involved in the criminal justice system, that she’s also researched about them. She lays down practices and theories based in both law and sociology that work to shift the deficit narrative from these young people to the systems that perpetually fall short particularly in ways they serve Black youth.

Quan was originally a character in Dear Martin (Crown/Random House, 2017). Stone employs a similar letter writing technique between the two young men in this novel that she used in the first to relate the powerful healing bond that can exist between young Black men. A very brief meeting in a park in the beginning of the book proves to be a significant bonding experience between the two and as Quan falls deeper and deeper into trouble, he relies more and more on Justyce. As someone from the neighborhood and as a budding scholar, Justyce is actually Quan’s one true good hope.

In a letter to Justyce, Quan writes

But it also makes me wonder: How did YOU do it, Justyce? I still remember when we met in that rocket ship (MY rocker ship that YOU invaded, by the say). We’d both left our houses after the streetlights were on because of the stuff going on with our mamas. We grew up in the same area, went to the same elementary and middle school. Evan had a class or two together.

Why’d we turn out so different?

Was it “pure choice” like that counselor would say?

These questions are probably pointless now, but that’s what’s been going through my head. (43)

These questions aren’t so pointless and Stone sets out to explore them in Dear Justyce.


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