In her upcoming novel Dear Justyce, bestselling author Nic Stone brings a different voice in this timely book. Dear Justyce is a sequel/companion (dubbed a “sequanion” by Stone) to her debut, Dear Martin. It follows Quan Banks Jr., a character who was mentioned in Dear Martin, as he works through adjusting to his life in a juvenile detention center, trying to understand how his life took a course he didn’t expect.
Stone separates this book a little differently. Each chapter is broken into three parts: the main portion of the chapter, a snapshot, and a letter Quan writes to Justyce. Stone sections some of her other work in a similar way to break up how she tells a story, but I find it’s especially effective in Dear Justyce. While she tracks Quan’s life, she doesn’t do so in a strictly linear way. Stone uses the chapter structure to break down how major events and circumstances in Quan’s life led him to his incarceration. She writes about Quan making certain decisions as a young teen because he felt he had no other choice. In the main sections following present-day Quan, he examines how different life circumstances (mostly between him and Justyce) can affect a person’s life, regardless of how they approach situations.
Stone has a pure talent for breathing life into her characters, and Quan reiterates that. Quan’s incarceration and other life circumstances (especially his home life) don’t define him, but they do create a complex and compelling character. He examines his own life often, wondering if he would be on the same track as Justyce had he fallen in with a different group or didn’t have to deal with his mother’s boyfriend. Though Quan has already endured so much, he continues to reconcile with his past and his decisions, learning from his experience. He grows as a person as the book progresses. He remains open-minded as he completes his school work. He also begins to take more stock of his mental health, presenting a side of him more willing to be vulnerable, at least with Justyce. Stone makes Quan as real as any fictional character can get.
One of the major ways the book caught my attention is the way Stone utilizes page space to emphasize Quan’s feelings. Generally the book is written in standard prose structure: the font remains consistent and paragraphs are written normally. Every so often, though, Stone makes a departure from this set-up, typically when Quan’s emotions begin to overwhelm him. She spreads words out across the pages, condenses them, changes fonts, etc. in a way that pulls you into Quan’s state of mind in a given moment. How each crucial turning point in his life affects him is reflected through the visual way Stone writes. It’s a powerful way to drive her points home.
A majority of the book primarily focuses on Quan’s reactions to certain events, emphasizing how pervasive incarceration is in his life, whether it’s him or someone he knows. However, Stone uses this to highlight racism as it presents itself to Quan, reintroducing an important context through him. One way she does this is using Quan’s letters to Justyce to talk about how Quan’s life while incarcerated looks different than a white teen who is also serving time in the detention center. She also analyzes how, regardless of how hard he tries to do his best, racial prejudices are always against him, which is part of how Quan works through whether it really matters what choices he made.
Ultimately, Dear Justyce is a story about survival, and Quan is a survivor. He seeks refuge where he can, doing whatever it takes to protect it and himself and his family. His anger and frustrations cause him to retreat inside himself, but eventually help him stay afloat in the detention center by giving him the space to work out what’s happened. Despite the heartbreaking circumstances behind Quan’s current situation, he doesn’t ever give up, even he if he wants to.
Stone’s previous books are hard hitters, but Dear Justyce resonates differently. She writes a new voice with Quan — one that’s also entirely familiar but often isn’t amplified. She draws on experience from her own life, as well as experience from mentoring kids and teens (which she discusses in her author’s notes). That experience comes through in her writing. The book is imbued with nuances that will sit with you long after you finish reading. Stone offers deep insight into Quan’s mind. She creates a character that readers will be able to sympathize with, but more importantly, she offers a character many Black youth will finally be able to see themselves in, giving a voice to those who need it the most. Dear Justyce is a must-read for all ages.
Dear Justyce is set to release September 29. It’s now available for pre-order here.