Quan thanks Justyce for sending the stack of graphic novels featuring Black superheroes. He also thanks Justyce for his other “gift”: Doc, who’s now Quan’s teacher. Doc was annoying at first, but he’s pretty cool. He asks Quan to think about things Quan doesn’t want to consider, like how the U.S. fails to uphold the standards it set for itself. Today, though, Doc noticed Justyce’s Martin notebook and revealed that he used to teach Justyce and Manny. At first, Quan was upset—he’d asked Justyce to keep it a secret that his tutor quit. But then he decided to write and say thank you.
At first, Doc seems like just another nosy, annoying adult to Quan, but his redeeming quality is that he’s connected to Justyce. With this, Quan begins to piece together a support network that seems genuinely interested in helping him and pushing him to do and be better. Quan also learns to trust Justyce, since he decides that it’s really okay that Justyce told someone about Quan’s tutor quitting. Justyce seems like he’ll always try to help make things better for Quan.
Quan is also writing to share something he and Doc talked about earlier. Doc brought the book Native Son for Quan to read. It’s brutal—it’s about a Black man who accidentally kills a white girl and fabricates a plot to frame the girl’s boyfriend. He’s eventually convicted. But even though the story is set in the 1930s, Quan felt like he was reading something contemporary. The protagonist couldn’t get past obstacles, no matter what he did, and it was almost unavoidable that he committed crimes. As Quan’s former mentor, Martel , would say, the “institutions of oppression” made the protagonist’s fate seem like destiny.
It’s telling that Quan feels like Native Son could’ve taken place in his present day—this implies that, for Black men in particular, not a lot has changed in America as far as racial injustice goes. Quan sees himself in the protagonist, and because he’s able to make this connection, he can start to think about the systems that caused him to end up in prison. In other words, Quan now sees that he’s not an anomaly. He doesn’t need to feel abnormal or like a failure, because he’s not the only one.
Quan and Doc discussed how Quan could relate to the story. Quan’s ex-counselor, for instance, thought that Quan was just making excuses—but Quan can’t see how he could’ve chosen differently. He tried, but it seemed impossible. The prosecutor even called Quan a “career criminal” after Quan was arrested the second time for stealing a phone. He intended to sell it to buy his siblings shoes. Quan has been thinking about Justyce’s mentions of beating up white boys in his Martin journal. He wonders if those incidents were bound to happen.
In talking about his ex-counselor, Quan shows how the people who are ostensibly supposed to help him succeed fail to take into account the full picture of who Quan is and where he came from. The book shows that there’s something seriously wrong if he needs to steal in order to buy his siblings shoes—and while Quan made the choice to steal, it might not have felt like a choice to him. It probably seemed like just what needed to be done to help his family.
When Quan brought this up with Doc, Doc asked if Quan thought the protagonist of Native Son was a killer. Quan acknowledged that the man killed someone, but calling him a “killer” seems like the guy meant to do it. Then, Doc asked if Quan is a killer. Quan tells Justyce he couldn’t answer. He wanted to say no, but he also wondered if it’s inevitable that he’s a killer. All this makes Quan wonder how Justyce managed to succeed. When they first met in the rocket ship, they had a lot in common—but they turned out so different. The questions seem pointless now, but Quan keeps thinking about them.
Doc asks Quan if he’s a killer, seemingly to pry into Quan’s intent in committing the crime that landed him in this juvenile detention center (readers will later learn that Quan imprisoned for killing a white police officer). So essentially, Doc asks if Quan killed in cold blood—or whether he felt like he had to. Quan’s inability to answer suggests that there’s more to the story, but it’s also telling that he thinks becoming a killer might be inevitable. This reminds readers of how powerless Quan feels. He doesn’t even feel like he has the ability to stop himself from taking another’s life. And given his own feelings of powerlessness, it seems even more curious that Justyce ended up in such a different place (Yale), one where he has power.