MONSTER by Walter Dean Myers
Harper Collins 1999
Coretta Scott King Honor Book and many other awards
Remember Jack in Sharon Creech's Love That Dog? He falls in love with poetry, works through his grief over the death of his dog and campaigns to invite Walter Dean Myers, author of the poem "Love That Boy" to his school. I figured that it was about time I read some Walter Dean Myers!
Monster is so compelling; I could not put it down. Sixteen–year-old Steve Harmon is in jail and about to go on trial for murder. Neighborhood gang members trying to save their own necks implicate Steve. Only he is innocent. Will the justice system find who is really guilty?
The prosecution paints a picture of Steve as a Monster, participating in a robbery that left the store owner dead. Steve’s defense lawyer contrasts his character with the characters of the other two gang members – one on trial and one already imprisoned and looking to make a plea bargain. She calls up all the things that make Steve look human that will save him. She emphasizes the fact that Steve is a film student whose films reveal snapshots of hope and promise in his ghetto neighborhood.
The action is told through a screenplay, complete with stage directions, written by Steve as he lives it. The back of the book jacket reads:
FADE IN: INTERIOR: Early morning in CELL BLOCK D, MANHATTAN DETENTION CENTER
STEVE (Voice –Over)
Sometimes I feel like I have walked into the middle of a movie. Maybe I can make my own movie. The film will be the story of my life. No, not my life, but of this experience. I’ll call it what the lady prosecutor called me. . . . MONSTER
Meyers has so skillfully written this book, that I accepted the screenplay premise. During the riveting courtroom scenes, I believed in Steve’s innocence, rooted for him and held my breath at the prosecution’s argument.
An excerpt from Steve’s notes as he writes the script:
I can hardly think about the movie, I hate this place so much. But if I didn’t think of the movie, I’d go crazy. All they talk about in here is hurting people. If you look at somebody, they say, “What you looking at me for? I’ll mess you up!” If you make a noise they don’t like, they say they’ll mess you up. One guy has a knife. It’s not really a knife, but a blade glued onto a toothbrush handle.
The realities of street life and prison are graphically portrayed in this excellent YA novel in which innocence is lost. Hope that justice will prevail and a story in the hands of the skilled Walter Dean Myers pull the reader forward until the last page is turned.
Myers is completing the first year of his two-year appointment as National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. I heard this legendary author speak in 2011 at Vermont College of Fine Arts. He was warm and generous as he shared his amazing career and afterwards spoke at length informally with students and alumni. Myers has never shied from writing about tough topics. I plan to read more of his work.
2012 Award Winning Book Status: 12/12 I am happy to have been part of this challenge. So many wonderful books have been shared, and I know I will be reading more of them. Thank you, Gathering Books, for issuing the Award Wining Book Challenge!