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Monster Paperback – December 14, 2004
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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 --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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Top customer reviews
Walter Dean Myers used Steve's script as part of the story, which allows Steve to see himself as an observer as well as what he knows is true. Readers don't know if the allegations are true or false, although his white lawyer seems to think he's guilty. Steve isn't like the three others involved in the robbery/murder. He's thoughtful and creative with dreams beyond his Harlem neighborhood. He does seem to lack insight, if he's guilty of being the lookout.
Myers superbly gives readers messages, with subtlety. Where lesser writers tell, he shows through nuance. He makes me think and feel. In one of the most poignant lines in MONSTER, Steven muses that his younger brother can't visit him in the adult prison, and if he was not an inmate, he too would be unable to visit. That one sentence spoke volumes to me about the juvenile justice system and made my heart ache. Another strong moment was Steve's lawyer's reaction to the verdict.
MONSTER is an important story not just about justice, but also about race and judging young black men on stereotypes rather than as individuals.
For me, the appeal of this book lies with how the question of Steve’s innocence or guilt is intentionally ambiguous. Like the jurors, the reader has to weigh the evidence and decide whether Steve is innocent or guilty and if he is guilty, of what exactly? (The book does not go into as much detail about this, but it is set in NYC in the 90’s when Rudy Giuliani was the mayor known for being tough on crime. “Acting in Concert” clauses in the penal code meant that you didn’t necessarily have to be the one who pulled the trigger to be charged with murder.)
The book has a very unique and interesting writing style. The story is told from Steve’s point of view but the narration switches back and forth between a screenplay format and diary entries. It also switches between the courtroom, jail and flashbacks to Steve's childhood. The screenplay format can be distracting at first and takes some getting used to, but it actually is quite effective in conveying imagery and as his trial ensues, it adds to the the drama. Some parts of his trial are riveting and read like an episode of Law and Order and his diary entries from jail are very sobering. The awards and accolades that this book has received are well-deserved. This is not your typical "overrated/overhyped" urban fiction novel.
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