I first checked out Dear Marcus by Jerry McGill because I’d heard it referred to as “the #1 book in juvie,” and I wondered what kind of book could entice kids in juvenile detention centers. As soon as I started reading it, I was swept up in the universal questions that it raised about forgiveness, about anger and grief, and about how often each of us look back on our lives and wonder “what if?”
Many library systems including mine have this book shelved in their adult collections. That’s understandable because it’s written from an adult perspective, but it’s also understandable that it would have lots of crossover teen appeal because so much of it focuses on the author’s youth. This would make a great book to share with older teens who are fans of real-life survivor stories, and it would also make a great topic for a book discussion.
Jerry McGill was 13 years old when he was shot in the back by a stranger. He had been a smart kid with a promising future. He was great at sports, he could dance, and he was popular. But then one bullet changed everything.
Jerry spent a lot of time thinking about the “what ifs.” What if he hadn’t been out on the street that night? What if he and his friends hadn’t stopped to play video games on the way home? What if they had walked home a different way? Jerry and Eric had been walking next to each other — what if the man had decided to shoot Eric instead?
What if, what if, what if?
But all the what ifs in the world don’t matter, because Jerry was shot and his life changed forever. When he wasn’t thinking about the what ifs, he was thinking about the person who did this to him. Was it a boy or was it a man? Why did he shoot him? Was it accidentally or on purpose? Was he proud afterwards, or did he regret it? Is he still alive, or is he dead? Is he in prison, or is he free?
Jerry has no idea, because they never caught the person who did this to him. But he can imagine that person. He imagines that the person who shot him is named Marcus, and that whether he was a boy or a man on the day he pulled the trigger, he’s definitely a man by now. This book is a letter from Jerry to Marcus, filled with all the things he wants to say to the man who ruined and transformed his life.