Comparing The Hate U Give and Dear Martin


Rebecca Smits, Guest A & E Reporter


The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and Dear Martin by Nic Stone are, in theory, two similar books about police brutality and racial justice. When I heard we were reading this Dear Martin book for class, I was skeptical because it sounded exactly like The Hate U Give– and rightfully so. 

Both books feature a black teen as the main character who witnesses their friend get shot and killed by a white cop. 16-year-old Starr Carter and 17-year-old Justyce McAllister are the protagonists of The Hate U Give and Dear Martin, respectively. Both main characters fall in love with someone who is white, facing disapproval from their parents, and have a falling-out with longtime friends. The two books couldn’t get any more similar, yet one is the clear winner. 

I love The Hate U Give- I’ve read it at least five times- and I felt like Nic Stone’s novel was just a bad rip-off of it. But I’m not just going to say Dear Martin is worse- I have specific reasons. Get ready, because just like the book itself, this is going to be a wild ride.

The main premise of Dear Martin is that Justyce writes letters to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to process events in the story (hence the title). I enjoyed how the letters contributed to the story, however, this made it really difficult to read at times because the point of view was always changing. 

In just the first 20 pages, the point of view switched from third person narration focused on Justyce, to first person (the first letter to Martin), to… script format, for some reason? Why is the dialogue like this sometimes, but not always? I could see the benefit it would provide if the entire story was told like this, but it’s not, and all this does is make it more confusing. 

The peak of this is in chapter 10, where it swaps from dialogue with quotation marks to script format and back again eight times in the span of three pages with no rhyme or reason. Why would you do this? If it’s to make the scene seem more chaotic, it certainly succeeded. 

Later in the book, news articles and transcripts are haphazardly thrown in between chapters, and while I really appreciated how that gave a wider view of the fictional situation, this was another layer of perspectives. 

Even the portions of the book you’d think would be simple to understand… aren’t. The omniscient 3rd person does not work for this story because of how it’s used. Sometimes it’s Justyce’s inner thoughts in 1st person, not a narrator, or so it seems- but then it’ll switch back to 3rd person for actions. It’s omniscient in the sense that we know what Justyce is thinking, but no other character. What’s the point then? Why isn’t it just a consistent 1st person like The Hate U Give? Dear Martin would’ve worked much better, in my opinion, if it was simply told in first person like The Hate U Give was. This was all so unnecessarily confusing, with the sudden and unexpected switches.

I found Dear Martin to be insanely unrealistic, while The Hate U Give was miles more believable. Not just in terms of specific events and dialogue, but even the way it was written, characters were more fleshed out, with their own little quirks and interests. Starr is into Fresh Prince, Harry Potter, and basketball, to name a few. Meanwhile I can name zero of Justyce’s specific interests. I have a difficult time seeing Nic Stone’s characters as real people. 

Due to how the relationships between characters were developed, a lot of characters felt really one dimensional, given how we don’t really know their backstory or how they came to be friends with Justyce. On the other hand Starr regularly recalls old experiences she had with her friends. “As we leave, I remember how Khalil used to run up to the car when I was about to go, the sun shining on the grease lines that separated his cornrows.”

Not only that, but Starr’s interactions with other characters as the story progresses seem natural and organic. However in Dear Martin, nearly every conversation feels forced. A great example of this is in Chapter 2, when we are first introduced to Justyce’s best friend Manny. It contains possibly the most unnatural dialogue I have ever read. “Manny reaches out to give Jus’ shoulder a supportive squeeze… ‘You wanna talk about it?… You know I’m like… here if you do, right?… You know my mom’s a psychologist,’ Manny says. ‘You got Codependency Syndrome or something.’” This is such a strange interaction. Come on. Am I supposed to take this seriously? This book is trying way too hard. Let’s be realistic- no teenager talks like this with their friend. It’s almost like Nic Stone doesn’t know how to write believable teenage male characters because she’s never experienced that. 

Realistically, the situation might end up more like this one from The Hate U Give where Starr lashes out when her friend questions her. “‘What’s up with you?’ Hailey asks…  ‘Why does everyone keep asking me that?’ I snap. ‘Because you’re acting so weird lately!’ Hailey snaps back.” Wow, in this book characters actually have realistic emotions that influence their interactions with other characters! 

From a writer’s craft standpoint, Dear Martin was just not up to the same quality as The Hate U Give. Nic Stone included far too many lengthy conversations that accomplish nothing- they’re just a way for readers to process the story without doing any thinking for themselves. One example of this is a phone call Justyce has with his friend SJ. “…some of the stuff Trey said tonight really got to me. SJ: Really? Me: Yeah… What if Trey is right?” I don’t need this to be all spelled out for me. I, the reader, can figure this out and infer the impact of events in the story on my own. This is just repeating what we already know about Justyce, that he worries about how others think of him. 

Meanwhile, The Hate U Give is full of rapid- fire dialogue, no breaks for characters to stop and process what just happened. The characters’ actions and dialogue speak for themselves, they don’t need to be thinking out loud. There are no lulls; the action never stops, and that’s what makes you want to keep reading. 

Another technical flaw that stuck out to me while reading Dear Martin was that every chapter ending was bad. Strange nitpick, but that really does not motivate you to keep reading. Just one example out of many is the odd ending of chapter 2. Manny’s mother receives a phone call that Manny’s cousin had been charged with murder. Alright, that would be a good point of interest in the story, but it’s so unnecessarily dramatic, it reads like a TV drama. 

“Dr. Rivers looks from Manny to Justyce and back again. ‘He’s been charged with murder,’ she says. Manny’s jaw drops. ‘They say he killed a police officer.’” The chapter just ends there. Cue the eye roll. It loses all potential to be a nice dramatic cliffhanger because we haven’t even been introduced to Manny’s cousin yet. We, the readers, have no connection to him, and are still getting to know Manny and Justyce, for that matter. Then the chapter just abruptly ends and cuts to the next chapter, with no continuity until a forced “speaking of” style transition, as Justyce thinks about an ongoing murder case.

Any chapters that don’t end with a weird dramatic cutoff end with an unnecessary statement like “I’m going to bed” or “[Gets up and leaves.]” This is laughable, we don’t need the chapters to end like this. 

When it comes down to it, Dear Martin is not good. I took notes while I read Dear Martin for the first time, and I had written things like “I hate this so much for a multitude of reasons.” That may be a bit harsh, but can you really blame me? 

If you want a good social justice story, read something by Angie Thomas. But hey, that’s just my opinion

What did you think? I’d like to see if other people agree. poll