Dear Justyce

Author: Nic Stone

Narrator: Dion Graham

Publisher: Crown

Release Date: September 29/20

Page Length: 288 pages, Audiobook 4 hrs. 45 min.

Reviewer: Laurie

I first became familiar with author Nic Stone when I was part of Jennifer LaGuardia’s and Jennifer Northrup’s #2jennsbookclub, and one of the selections to read was her debut, Dear Martin.  I listened to the audiobook of Dear Martin narrated by Dion Graham, and my white-privileged eyes became wide open as the story unfolded. As much as I thought Dear Martin is a book that needed to be read and unpacked with young adults and adults, I believe Dear Justyce is on an even higher plane because it will connect to more readers personally as it either reflects their own story or, of someone they know. It is not necessary to read Dear Martin first, but it will provide more context to Dear Justyce.

Right from the opening, we hear Nic Stone introducing in her voice Dear Reader and how she never intended to write this book. It came about from a series of texts from some boys that she had met writing Dear Martin. The boys shared the fact that they are so very different from Justyce, how they needed their story told and how Nic Stone was their voice. From there, she realized that there was a character from Dear Martin, Vernelle LaQuan Bank Jr., who had a story that readers needed to hear.

Similar in format to Dear Martin, Vernelle LaQuan Bank Jr. (known as Quan) reveals his story in a series of flashbacks and letters. This time the letters’ recipient is Justyce, who now is in law school. Quan is in a holding cell awaiting trial for the murder of a police officer, although innocent. As he sits in jail, we see the injustice of all the systems that failed to support him and countless other Black kids that leads to where he sits now.

Dion Graham’s narrated both books that added to the story as he created a variety of different voices and used his pacing to create tension and to indicate how quickly events were happening. The various inflections used in specific characters also made certain scenes more dynamic. As I listened, you could hear the many emotions that Quan experienced and felt like you were listening to dialogue from a movie as hard as it was to listen to Quan’s story.

Gutwrenching and hard to read because it so accurately portrays what is happening today and not just in America. It is yet another wake-up call to expose the systemic racism that exists and begs us to change our ways so that Quan’s story is fictional rather than being almost biographical.

OTHER BOOKS BY THIS AUTHOR: Dear Martin (Dear Martin, #1), Clean Getaway, and Shuri: A Black Panther Novel 

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED Gr. 8+

From The Roots Up

Author: Tasha Spillett

Illustrator: Natasha Donovan

Publisher: Highwater Press

Release: October 27/20

Reviewer: Kathie

Thank you to the publisher for an eARC of this book.

I was very excited to get a chance to read this YA graphic novel sequel to Surviving The City. The series is set in Winnipeg, and it’s an important book for readers not only for its insightful and honest depiction of what many Indigenous youth face, but for greater empathy and understanding about the Two-Spirit person experience.

In this story, Dez is living in a group home after the death of her kokum. She and Miikwan are still best friends, but they’re both exploring relationships with other people. Dez is discovering that she is a Two-Spirit person, but she isn’t sure how to tell Miikwan. Miikwan is attracted to a new boy at school named Riel, and invites him to take part in an after school program for Neechi students. When Dez wants to take part in the drumming that is traditionally a male-only activity, the Elders are faced with addressing change and expanding their understanding of the gender roles with which they were raised. Riel’s Auntie Alex, who is a Two-Spirit person, attends one of the group’s meetings and talks about their experience, and the fact that many nations have had individuals who have different genders or sexualities, but that it’s a part of their cultures that were also taken from them. As Dez begins to connect to a new identity, each person in the story is affected by it.

I think this story is so important because I have never read a story for young people that addresses Two Spirit people, and how they can feel like they belong just as they are. Not only does the author teach the reader, but she does so in a way that’s relatable and respectful of teens and their relationships. I loved the older and supportive female characters such as the group mom, Karen, and Elder Linda, who help Dez and accepted her period of self exploration. The illustrations in this book are gorgeous, and add so much depth to the story.

This book is an essential addition to classroom and libraries not only in Manitoba, but also across Canada and the US. Please make sure you also have the first book in the series, Surviving the City.

Breakdown

Author: David A. Robertson

Illustrators: Scott B. Henderson and Donovan Yaciuk

Publisher: Highwater Press

Release: Oct 27/20

Reviewer: Kathie

Thank you to the publisher for an eARC of this book.

What an excellent YA graphic novel! I’ve been anxiously awaiting this book, as I LOVED The Reckoner trilogy by author. This book continues that series, but it’s now in graphic novel format, with incredible illustration by Scott B. Henderson and Donovan Yaciuk.

Cole has returned to Winnipeg, along with Eva, to figure out what’s going on with Mihko Laboratories, but the trauma that he experienced in Wounded Sky First Nation has come with him. He’s experiencing PTSD, and the panic attacks and hallucinations that go along with it. His mental health is also affecting how he feels about being a “superhero”. On the other hand, Eva is really coming into her own as a confident, empowered Indigenous female superhero. She supports Cole, but also realizes she can also go out on her own without needing him by her side. Together, they are trying to figure out what’s going on in Mihko’s building, but true to form, the author leaves us with a cliffhanger to wait and see what’s going to happen to the characters next.

The ownvoices mental health representation in this series is one of my favorite aspects of it. Cole is a character whose struggle with anxiety and the trauma from his past is honest, raw, and extremely relatable to many. To see a character that’s powerful even though he has mental health issues is inspiring, and I love how complex and real he becomes when he’s seen as imperfect. There are scenes where Cole meets with his therapist, and discusses his problems and the need for him to go back on antidepressants. This open discussion of needing support is extremely positive.

Watching Eva develop in this book is also a highlight, as she becomes a real role model with her compassion and strength. Although I certainly missed Choch from the original series, I did enjoy revisiting other characters, too, and Brady’s relationship with Dylan provides Two Spirit representation that adds to the book’s appeal.

I highly recommend this book for young adult collections, and suggest you check out The Reckoner trilogy if you haven’t read it yet.