When I said I would participate in this I was only a few months pregnant. Now I’m about 2-3 weeks from having this baby and I’ve been given two extremely emotionally charged books to review and choose between (Thanks for that J). So as I am reading the books I am hoping that I don’t burst into tears with my emotions on high alert. I have avoided reading emotionally charged books this entire pregnancy and now have to face them in my final month. So if I get a little overly emotional in my reviews I apologize ahead of time. Also fair warning there are some spoilers here, but I never give away the big endings.
Dear Martin by Nic Stone
Justyce McAllister is one of the best in his class at Braselton Prep. He is even on the debate team and set to go to YALE next year. But Justyce is from a single parent home, he is black, and originally from the bad side of town. So when a police officer sees him in a hoodie with a drunk girl late at night trying to get her into a car, the police officer already assumes that Justyce is up to no good. Justyce finds himself sprawled on the ground in handcuffs with ringing ears, all for trying to help his drunk ex-girlfriend home so she wouldn’t try to drive drunk. The officer wouldn’t let him explain and Justyce was left in handcuffs for hours while everything was worked out. This incident stirs something inside of Justyce. As a way to cope with what he is going through he decides to write letters to Martin Luther King Jr. and aspire to be more like him. At school, one of his classes has started talking about race and if all things are truly created equal. A few of the white guys in the group start talking about how everything is and this spurs them to do and say things that are completely racist as a way to prove that all things are equal. At first Justyce and his half black friend Manny just take it with a grain of salt, but after several incidents on the news of innocent black teens being shot, arrested or killed by police, Justyce can’t take it anymore. Soon Manny can’t either. And then while the two boys are out for a drive, trying to take their mind off their once friend who is filing a lawsuit against Manny for punching him out after racist comments, tragedy strikes.
Race issues are always going to be a thing and are always going to come up, especially with teens in diverse populations. After all the issues in the news that have happened in the last few years, it’s fairly obvious that we can say that this book has come at the right time. This is the type of book that can gut punch you and make you think about everything more seriously. While reading this I was thinking of my cousins biracial kids in St. Louis and many of the teens I have worked with over the last 10 years in the suburbs of Chicago. It also brought up many conversations I had in college with my philosophy professor Dr. Washington. This book hit me hard as I read it and when I came to the end of the book I felt like I had come full circle with the story. It is defiantly a book that everyone should read. And while I frown upon some of the language used in the book, I understand why it is in there.
The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe
Dita was asked to be the secret librarian of Block 31 of the Auschwitz concentration camp by the leader of the Jewish people inside the Block. Block 31 housed the school. To be found with a book of any kind is a sure fire way to be executed on the spot. As she was a young pre-teen she was less likely to be suspected during inspections. She was extremely brave, albeit scared, and hid the nine books from the Nazis. As Dita grows and learns about those imprisoned with her she learns that everyone is hiding things.
Okay, so it took me a while to get up the courage to face this book. I have a thing about holocaust books ever since my grandpa told me about his experiences in WW2 (and he left a lot out of that conversation, but his emotional response to me asking him questions and his retelling of what he went through made it clear to me as a 11 year old that this was an experience that he would rather not have had). With that in mind I always approach holocaust books with reverence. I have to be in the right mindset to read them, or I can’t get through them at all. So when I started this, I kept thinking that the holocaust has been written about by so many authors in so many ways that the only way I’m going to appreciate this book is if they come at if from a different angle. By page 100 I felt I was done with reading this, and in all honesty I wanted to toss this book into a large body of water and watch as the pages bleed out into the icy cold water. The holocaust has been written about so often that there are few books that can be counted as different and extremely good. Sepetys’ Salt to the Sea or Jane Yolen’s Briar Rose are much better holocaust books in my opinion. This one skips through time with no warning so as I was reading I had to keep asking myself, is this before or after she landed in the camp? It goes into back stories of some of the other prisoners as Dita discovers their secrets and describes details of what it was like for the Jews who lived inside Auschwitz. And while I’m sure some people will find this a great read, I find it another book on the pile about a time in history that gets talked about far too much in literature, when other wars or other historic events are so often overlooked.
And the winner is….
Dear Martin by Nic Stone …
This is more relevant to the times and something that Teens would much rather read than another book about the Holocaust. Plus, I think it is well written and while both books are about topics that can hit you where it hurts emotionally, Dear Martin did it better with more power behind it!