When your bestie goes to Book Con & brings you back a pile of YA novels with this one on top because she knows what you like. I don't typically read books with male protags, but I get why Nic Stone felt this story might best be told about a young Black man. We know that unarmed Black women and girls are also routinely assaulted by cops, it is so often young Black men, even future Ivy Leaguers like our protagonist, whose lives are in constant danger.
The back cover blurb (on the galley anyway) reads "Justyce is a good kid. An honor student. On his way to Yale. So why is he the one in handcuffs?" You'd think Justyce wouldn't be surprised, but he is, when a good dead for a drunk ex turns into an arrest. He is so shaken by being seen as just another hoodlum that he seeks help--from Martin Luther King, Jr., writing him letters and trying to live as Dr. King had.
Justyce goes to a fancy private school, and his best friend Manny, also Black, is the son of a corporate VP, and most of their friends are white. Justyce, however, grew up in a poor neighborhood and attends Braselton Prep, presumably on scholarship (I don't remember if Stone references how he pays tuition, room, and board). The white guys they're friends with are routinely racist in that way that some might describe as "benign," but is actually malignant. They deal with slights on their achievements, use of the N word, and kids who think racism is over because Manny's dad is rich.
Jared: I'm just sick of people suggesting African Americans still have it so hard these days. I don't care what SJ says, Manny. Your parents are totally proof that things are equal now.
Blake: They really are.
Jared: Right here, right now, on these red hills of Georgia, a son of former slaves and sons of former slave owners are sitting down at the table of brotherhood, dude. The Dream has been realized!
Tyler: Damn, bro. That was really poetic.
Manny: That's from the I Have a Dream speech, T.
Jared: Remember, bro? I had to memorize that shit for our eighth-grade Heritage play.
Blake: That's right! Token black guy over here got sick or something, right?
White boys will be white boys.
I don't want to spoil things with one particularly inciting incident, but ugh, Blake--he's the worst!
Luckily Justyce has a Black teacher to give him some adult support when things go from awful to deeply fucked. There's also a girl or two, one of whom is white (and Jewish, which makes a little difference). I'm interested in the white SO trope, which I've seen in other Black rite-of-passage novels and other works (The Hate U Give and Dear White People come immediately to mind). I wonder if that's because dating white people is an internal and external conflict for people of color living in historically white communities and/or because you have to include a white person in an important role to get white people to pay attention (i.e., buy your book or watch our show).