Nic Stone relies on more than her written word to send a message. The novelist used the never-before-seen cover of her upcoming book Dear Justyce to recognize the type of young Black teen that is rarely celebrated by mainstream media. 

An image a Black boy with a crisp haircut stands with his hands behind his back, wearing a bleak colored jumpsuit filled with menacing barb wire on the cover of her highly-anticipated sequel to her 2017 hit novel, Dear Martin. The cover image, shot by Stone’s husband Nigel Livingstone in their home, acknowledges the constant threats of violence faced by our community’s children every time they leave their homes and the hopelessness they often feel as a result. The model photographed for the cover was hand selected by Stone. She did the same for her previous effort, Dear Martin.

Stone tells ESSENCE that she decided to choose a design that reflected the challenges facing young Black men after consulting with two mentees.

“In a nutshell, they told me that as much as they loved Justyce, the protagonist of my debut novel, Dear Martin, their lives don’t look like his: they aren’t SAT-nailing debate team captains who are academically high-achieving. In their words: ‘We don’t go to colleges…Honestly, we don’t even know if we’ll live past the age of 18,’” the author recalled in a statement.

The honesty that the young men provided, and other connections Stone made while promoting her last book, inspired not only the cover of Stone’s latest work, but the plot as well. She worked hard to create a story that reflected the mentees’ differences, which are still valid stories of the Black experience. 

“Since that conversation, I’ve had the privilege of meeting many boys and girls—Black, brown, and otherwise—who are very much not like Justyce. I’ve met them, not at preparatory academies or ivy league universities, but in ‘alternative’ schools and juvenile detention facilities,” Stone explained. “And with every encounter, my mentees’ assertion that ‘You should make a book about us…You’re our voice,’ rang louder in my head. So I listened.”

Dear Justyce, hitting bookshelves on October 6, is available for preorder here.