October 15, 2009

Monster by Walter Dean Myers

I read Monster at the recommendation of an English-teacher friend. She had read the book with her students who are retaking 9th-grade English, as it is not a typical format or topic you'd find in a traditional English classroom.

The book is written from the perspective of 16yo Steve Harmon, a young, black man on trial for felony murder. The bulk of the book is written as a screenplay for a movie, as Steve was active in a filmmaking club prior to being locked up. Steve walks you through the entire trial.

What I found so interesting about this book is Myers' ability to help you feel what Steve would have felt, from his struggle with being a minor in an adult prison--he draws on the irony that if he wasn't locked up, he wouldn't be allowed in the visitation room as they don't let in minors--to his perception that even his lawyer thinks he's guilty. Steve maintains he's innocent (the accusation against him was that he was the lookout for the robbers who ended up killing the target of the robbery), yet even he wrestles with his possible guilt.

A strong theme in Monster is the presumed guilt of a young black man on trial for murder. Steve's lawyer sums it up nicely when she tells him, "You’re young, you’re Black, and you’re on trial. What else do [the jurors] need to know?" Whether we like to admit it or not, racism still plays a role in our judicial system.

I recommend Monster as a quick, interesting, and well-written read. My friend's class also liked it, which says a lot coming from a group of kids who aren't known for their love of reading.

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