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Monster (Coretta Scott King Honor Book) Hardcover – April 21, 1999
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"Monster" is what the prosecutor called 16-year-old Steve Harmon for his supposed role in the fatal shooting of a convenience-store owner. But was Steve really the lookout who gave the "all clear" to the murderer, or was he just in the wrong place at the wrong time? In this innovative novel by Walter Dean Myers, the reader becomes both juror and witness during the trial of Steve's life. To calm his nerves as he sits in the courtroom, aspiring filmmaker Steve chronicles the proceedings in movie script format. Interspersed throughout his screenplay are journal writings that provide insight into Steve's life before the murder and his feelings about being held in prison during the trial. "They take away your shoelaces and your belt so you can't kill yourself no matter how bad it is. I guess making you live is part of the punishment."
Myers, known for the inner-city classic Motown and Didi (first published in 1984), proves with Monster that he has kept up with both the struggles and the lingo of today's teens. Steve is an adolescent caught up in the violent circumstances of an adult world--a situation most teens can relate to on some level. Readers will no doubt be attracted to the novel's handwriting-style typeface, emphasis on dialogue, and fast-paced courtroom action. By weaving together Steve's journal entries and his script, Myers has given the first-person voice a new twist and added yet another worthy volume to his already admirable body of work. (Ages 12 and older) --Jennifer Hubert
From School Library Journal
Grade 7 Up-Steve Harmon, 16, is accused of serving as a lookout for a robbery of a Harlem drugstore. The owner was shot and killed, and now Steve is in prison awaiting trial for murder. From there, he tells about his case and his incarceration. Many elements of this story are familiar, but Myers keeps it fresh and alive by telling it from an unusual perspective. Steve, an amateur filmmaker, recounts his experiences in the form of a movie screenplay. His striking scene-by-scene narrative of how his life has dramatically changed is riveting. Interspersed within the script are diary entries in which the teen vividly describes the nightmarish conditions of his confinement. Myers expertly presents the many facets of his protagonist's character and readers will find themselves feeling both sympathy and repugnance for him. Steve searches deep within his soul to prove to himself that he is not the "monster" the prosecutor presented him as to the jury. Ultimately, he reconnects with his humanity and regains a moral awareness that he had lost. Christopher Myers's superfluous black-and-white drawings are less successful. Their grainy, unfocused look complements the cinematic quality of the text, but they do little to enhance the story. Monster will challenge readers with difficult questions, to which there are no definitive answers. In some respects, the novel is reminiscent of Virginia Walter's Making Up Megaboy (DK Ink, 1998), another book enriched by its ambiguity. Like it, Monster lends itself well to classroom or group discussion. It's an emotionally charged story that readers will find compelling and disturbing.
Edward Sullivan, New York Public Library
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
Although this author is great at creating "real" characters in real situations,it's a tough book for many of my kids to stay focused in. Many kids get frustrated about the switches between narrative/screenplay writing, there are a lot of characters to keep track of, and for someone unfamiliar with courtroom terminology (and screenplay terminology) it can be a bit of a tedious read. It is an interesting story though, I think it just needs to be approached in the right mindset that it's not a Walter Dean Myers story you can just breeze through.
Physically, the books are not very strongly bound; unless you have only 1 or 2 people reading it, it's liable to fall apart in large sections as soon as the binding comes even a little loose (like if you open the pages flat on a hard surface when you read).
This is what 16-year old Steven Harmon is thinking as he lies on the cot in his jail cell, awaiting trial for murder. He may or may not have been involved in a drugstore robbery that ended with the murder of the owner. He is terrified of being in jail and of the possibility he may have to spend the next 25 years in prison. To help himself cope, he is writing down everything in his notebook in screenplay format. The novel covers the trial and ends with the verdict.
Without spoiling the story, I can tell you that I walked away at the end not knowing for sure if Steve was guilty or not. I can say that I felt a strong connection to Steve and that I wanted him to not be guilty. I felt sorry for his innocence and for the fact that he grew up around criminals. Just being acquainted with these people put him in a bad position. The author clearly portrays the fear and anxiety that Steve is feeling. Being trapped and being out of control, relying on his attorney, the jury and the judge to decide the rest of his life... As Steve says, many times, he is not a bad person, he is not a monster.
Can I say WOW! This story drove home the point that one small event or one small error in judgment or even being in the wrong place at the wrong time or being "friends" with the wrong people can change your life forever. Reading this book could be life changing for young people.
This is my daughter's summer reading assignment. She is going into 8th grade. I really hope she gets as much out of this book as I did.
I liked that this book brought up so many issues that are ripe for discussion. Is it ethical to offer criminals deals or plea bargains in exchange for testifying against other criminals? Are black people treated unfairly in the criminal justice system? Did Steve commit the crime or not? For this reason, this book would make an excellent book club selection for a teenage or adult book club.
Walter Dean Myers, who died on July 1, 2014, was a prolific writer, having published over 100 books for children and teenagers. His books have won many, many awards. Monster won a Coretta Scott King Honor Award and was a National Book Award Finalist. I’ll probably never read all of his backlist but after reading this book, I definitely want to give it a shot.
It does have some ups and downs in the story, but it seems there's no huge highlight since the narrator is putting pieces of his life. On the top of that, the ending is quite obvious at some point.
On the bright side, it does have some symbolism and metaphor so I guess its useful to understand the concept or use in class. Especially since there are less words per page, it's easier to read for younger people.
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