Imagine your life like this. Instead of waking up in your bed, you wake up seeing prison bars in front of you. Society thinks you will be in the prison system for the rest of your life. Unfortunately, this is the everyday reality for 60,000 teenagers in the U.S. juvenile system, according to the ACLU. While it may be difficult for the average teen to picture this sort of life, young adult author Nic Stone helps teenagers see through the eyes of one such person in her novel, Dear Justyce. A sequel of the best-selling book Dear Martin, Dear Justyce centers around the protagonist Vernell LaQuan Banks (Quan), an incarcerated teenager from the inner city of Atlanta. The central conflict in the novel is about Quan’s struggle to comprehend how he ended up in juvenile hall whereas his neighbor, Justyce McAllister, ends up attending Yale.
One key aspect of the book that I appreciated the most was the raw and candid nature of the story. Reading about Quan’s difficult life ever since childhood was not only heartbreaking but also eye-opening. As someone that lives in a bubble, Dear Justyce increased my awareness about the grim and bleak situation that African Americans experience in their daily lives. From negative stereotypes to the school-to-prison pipeline, the book further compelled me to consider greater societal issues like poverty and discrimination. Dear Justyce was one of my most favorite young adult books I have read so far this year because the author raises big questions such as how much one’s circumstances can affect one’s life.
Besides the important social and political messages of the book, I also admired Nic Stone’s ability to craft a complex protagonist that I could empathize with. Despite being a flawed character, Quan’s desire to become a better person was moving. Seeing the opportunities taken away from him over time angered me as I wondered how different his life would have been if he grew up in a different place. I enjoyed the author’s unique writing style that consisted of third-person narration interspersed with letters written from Quan to Justyce. These different perspectives of the protagonist made Quan a more multi-faceted character by revealing his insecurities and thoughts. While Quan is a fictional character, his story may reflect the stories of other incarcerated teens in the U.S. in the sense that their troubling circumstances indirectly cause them to end up being incarcerated. Overall, Nic Stone does an excellent job of depicting Quan as a person who did not have intentions of becoming a bad person. Instead, it was society’s low expectations of kids like Quan that caused him to enter a downward spiral.
In short, Dear Justyce is a highly recommended book because of its overarching theme about how important it is for everyday people like us to help incarcerated teens have a brighter future. Generalizations and assumptions about incarcerated teens based on their past mistakes need to stop because the real story behind their incarceration is a lot more complicated than what we perceive it to be.
Picture Credit: Marco Chilese- Unsplash