Dear Martin by Nic Stone; Crown, 208 pages ($17.99) Ages 12 and up.
How does the Black Lives Matter movement carry on the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? This poignant and powerful debut novel explores that question, through a 17-year-old boy, writing a journal as letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., trying to make sense of King’s nonviolent ways in the context of the bitter racial divisions he sees in the world around him in the 21st century. Seventeen-year-old Justyce McAllister is top of his class at a private Atlanta prep school, captain of the debate team and headed for Yale when he tries to come to the rescue of his drunken ex-girlfriend and finds himself handcuffed by a white police officer. The incident shakes him to the core and makes him realize that while he may have left his old neighborhood behind, his old friends and his new classmates will never fully accept him. Then a ride one day with a classmate ends in gunfire, and Justyce’s life will never be the same.
The terrible shooting in this novel was inspired by a 2012 incident in which a 17-year-old African-American boy was shot dead in a gas station parking lot after a brief dispute with an older white man about loud music coming from the car the teenager was in. Stone offers an interesting backdrop of racial realities of an elite Southern prep school and a diverse range of characters including Justyce’s white debate partner and love interest. This is a compelling read in a year that also saw publication of Angie Thomas’ National Book Award-nominated “The Hate U Give.”
After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again by Dan Santat; Roaring Brook Press, $17.99.
This whimsical, inspired postscript to the familiar nursery rhyme is a soaring tale of picking up the pieces and starting over and comes from the author-illustrator who won the 2015 Caldecott Medal for “The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend. “ The lively, colorful illustrations are brilliant, from an ivy-covered, towering wall with ladder (“It was just an accident. But it changed my life.”) to Humpty Dumpty emerging from “Kings County Hospital” (“all the king’s men managed to put me back together”) to the traumatized Humpty, newly afraid of heights and having to give up bird-watching, sleeping on the floor rather than in his bunk bed. In one marvelous double illustration, Humpty’s fear is stuck buying cereal from the bottom shelf at the grocery, full of unattractive black and white boxes labeled “Fiber Flakes” “Grown-Up Food” or “Bag-o-Cereal,” rather than the Choco Duck or Sugar Bunny cereals high up. The surprising, inspired ending is perfect.
Facing Frederick: The Life of Frederick Douglass, A Monumental American Man by Tonya Bolden; Abrams, 180 pages ($19.99)
Acclaimed author Tonya Bolden offers a fascinating portrait of an American hero in this excellent biography for young readers, handsomely illustrated with photographs, etchings and newspaper pages. Her story begins with Douglass a free man in New Bedford, Mass., buying a subscription to the anti-slavery newspaper The Liberator and giving first speech at an anti-slavery meeting. Her lively narrative offers a thorough examination of Douglass as a giant in the anti-slavery movement, his sharp disagreements with white abolitionists and other black leaders, his soaring oratory, his newspaper work, his support for women’s rights, his vital role after the Civil War railing against the injustices and new slavery imposed by courts and legislatures in the Reconstruction South. Bolden offers a full portrait of Douglass the fiery orator and Douglass the family man who battled depression, loved to travel, devoted himself to helping his adult children. This is yet another fine addition to Bolden’s excellent body of work including “Maritcha” and “Cause.”
– Jean Westmoore