I’ll be honest with you; I can’t identify that one thing that made me love this book, especially since it was a mere 210 pages long (or less than a five-hour audio). Usually, this leaves a lot to be desired in the way of character development and story, but Nic Stone just might be a genius. She managed to pack one hell of a story in those few pages without sacrificing quality. This story can easily be compared to Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give, in fact, there is mention of the “thug life” in Stone’s book and a shout out from her on the cover, but this can easily stand on its own two feet, no comparison needed.
Justyce McAllister is doing everything he’s been told he needs to to be successful. He goes to a prestigious boarding prep school, killed his SATs, is on the debate team, has great friends, and has an Ivy league college acceptance letter. He’s also black and from the wrong side of town. He’s a scholarship kid, and boards there so he’s not immersed in his neighborhood life where circumstances might have taken him on a different path in life. Justyce also lives in a bubble of safety. That bubble is unceremoniously popped when he’s trying to be the good guy and help his very drunk ex-girlfriend, who is sitting on the ground next to her car attempting to drive. During his efforts to help her, a police officer drives by, and sirens start. The next thing he knows is he’s on the ground, being cuffed, hit in the head, mother-effed, and not allowed to speak. A day later, still shaken for being arrested for carjacking, Justyce can’t reconcile his secure life at school with what just happened to him. He finds inspiration in Martin Luther King and begins journaling to him to sort out his thoughts. He’d like to be like the pacifist MLK, social justice hero of his time, and handle things calmly and peacefully but it’s hard when he wants to punch people in the face when he feels his anger raging. Justyce thinks things will go back to normal at his school, but he soon realizes that his bubble of safety might not be safe after all. His best friend is black but has never lived in anything less than a McMansion, so he doesn’t get it either. Both boys have different ways of coping with the intentional and unintentional racism that their eyes are now open to. As Justyce starts to understand that just because he’s going to an Ivy League college, it’s his skin color that will matter the most. How he chooses to live his life with this knowledge is something he’s going to struggle with for a long time and decide if it will define him or lead him.
Nic Stone doesn’t shy away from some pretty awkward and unsettling conversations and situations in this story. She does manage to portray both sides- I never felt like I was being preached to or told how to feel. Highly recommend this short but perfect story. The audio was excellent- and fast!