My Bio

My Bio
My name is Sharon Levin and I've been reviewing children's literature for 20 years. I founded and run the Bay Area Children's Literature List. My biggest passion (outside my family) is getting books into the hands of children and teens. My favorite thing is getting non-readers to realize that they're readers. I also LOVE t-shirts that have to do with books or literature. As soon as I figure out how to do it, I'll have a click through on the above picture so you can see my entire collection (and where to get them).

September 25, 2017


 Nic Stone has hit the ground running with her debut novel Dear Martin, the story of Justyce McAllister, an African American teen boy, who is SO MANY things, but much of the world wants to see him in only one way.

 I am so pleased and honored that Nic Stone took the time to answer my questions.  I cannot praise Dear Martin highly enough. It is brilliant and heartbreaking.  It is thought provoking and it is infuriating.  It is fiction, but it is not.   Dear Martin needs to be on EVERY high school's Must Read list.

From Nic Stone's website: 
Struggling to cope with it all, Justyce starts a journal to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But do Dr. King’s teachings hold up in the modern world? Justyce isn’t so sure.

Q: It looks like you made up the names of the victims of police violence, i.e. Tavarrius Jenkins, was there a reason you chose to make them up rather than use real names?
A: I made the names up primarily out of respect for the families who, every morning, wake up to a world their loved one is no longer a part of. We’ve been talking a lot about *representation* in the book world, and how important it is to Get It Right, especially when writing an experience that isn’t one’s own, and I personally feel that’s an even BIGGER deal when referencing individuals who exist(ed) in the real world.
I was also very deliberate about the names I chose—Shemar, Tavarrius, Justyce as opposed to Jim, Bob, and Ted—because I knew no one would have a problem suspending disbelief when they saw the names I chose attached to news headlines involving police brutality. Which says a lot about the world we live in.
Q: How did you decide what situations (i.e. the school) to put Justyce in as the framework for his life and letters to MLK?
A: Well Jus is essentially a high school kid, and it was very important to me that his circumstances read that way. Oftentimes, when the name of a teenager becomes a hashtag (as of this interview, the most recent one was #JordanEdwards, a fifteen-year-old high school freshman who was shot in the head by a police officer while in the passenger seat of a car leaving a party), the actual life of the teen gets swallowed by the tragedy of the untimely death. Yes, we’ll get details here and there that fuel our sense of injustice (“Jordan was a straight-A student and standout athlete, who was beloved by his schoolmates…”), but the life actually lived has ended, so people don’t think too much about what it might’ve looked like.
That’s what I wanted to highlight with this book: the daily life of a seventeen-year-old African American boy in the thick of his senior year of high school. Trayvon Martin was seventeen. Jordan Davis was seventeen. Mike Brown was eighteen and killed eight days after graduating from high school.
And before their deaths, these boys were just… boys. Waking, eating, drinking, going to school, doing homework, playing video games, hanging out with friends, disagreeing with their parents, dealing with difficult people, applying to college, falling in love, turning their music up too loud and ruining their hearing…
That’s the stuff I wanted to highlight in this book.

Q: The conversations in the book are amazing, frustrating, irritating, insightful (just grab a thesaurus, I’m not done yet).  How many came from real life?  Are there some that you wish you had said in the moment? (I certainly saw things I wish I’D said to people.)
A: While the exact conversations are fictional, the circumstances and concepts they refer to—like stereotype threat and the Superpredator Myth—definitely come from real life. The fact of the matter is that this stuff is hard to talk about. People either don’t know how to articulate their thoughts/feelings, or they’re afraid to because of societal taboos. So the conversations were really designed to provide 1. language for these types of discussions and 2. insight into wildly different perspectives.
Hopefully, after reading the discussions in the book, people will be better prepared for these types of conversations.

Q: Weird question:  Did you have a photo of MLK above your desk that you looked at while writing the letters to him?
A: Ha! I didn’t, but he was constantly staring off into the distance from the cover of This book which was by my side for the duration of the writing since it was my main source of research. Highly recommend it, by the way.

Q: We ALL need a Societal Evolution Class.  Was it based on one you took or taught or do you just wish it existed?
A: I’ll confess that the *class* is me being a sneaky writer who needed a believable setting for difficult and atypical classroom discussions. After writing it, I definitely see the potential value in such a course and do wish it existed, especially at the high school level. (I volunteer as tribute to teach it!)

Q: So, SJ is brilliant, with the perfect cohesive, cogent argument.  Is she you? (she’s who *I* want to be).
A: So, SJ is… interesting. There are many things about her that are very Middle/High-School-Me: debate, athletics, and multiple school leadership positions, for example. But I definitely wasn’t as self-or-others-aware as she is. So I guess in a way, she’s teen and present-day me shoved into a seventeen-year-old Jewish girl, but with more snark and sass. (I have a deep and abiding disdain for sarcasm, believe it or not).

Q: I realized when I said I wanted to be SJ, that I had focused on the white girl.  I also realize SJ has to be white in order to have the situation with Justyce’s mom.  She is the main voice/face of Liberal thought (Justyce is living the situation, so I don’t think of him as the representative of Liberal thought - does that make sense?) So, does this make SJ a ‘white savior’?  I’m thinking of Chapter 7 in particular. 
A: I love this question, and I’m glad you asked it exactly this way. The short answer is no, I don’t see SJ as a white savior; I see her as an ally. 
The main difference between the two has to do with motivation: allyship is focused on breaking down systems of oppression simply because they’re wrong, whereas saviorism slips into a focus on individuals/specific groups and becomes about “helping” those who “can’t help themselves.”
I was very, very deliberate about SJ’s identifiers. She’s racially white, cisgender, heterosexual and upper-middle-class—all areas of overt privilege—because people are typically more open to hearing the perspectives of those they most easily identify with. The societal problems she points out in the book are common knowledge to most American Americans, but I had her point them out because I knew white readers would be more likely to listen to her than they would to a black character. But she’s also female and Jewish, both of which give her insight into marginalization. 

At the end of the day though, the most important things about SJ are that she sees injustice and she cares about changing it. Would that we ALL be a bit more like her, regardless or race, religion or otherwise.   

Nic, thank you so very much for your time, your heart, your voice.  Thank you for bringing Justyce McAllister and Dear Martin into the world.

Dear Martin will be released on October 17, 2017.  You can pre-order through Indie Bound, or just call your local independent bookstore. 

Visit Nic Stone at