Review: Monster by Walter Dean Myers

MonsterMonster by Walter Dean Myers
Publication: Amistad; Rev. Harper Tempest ed. edition (May 8, 2001), Paperback, 281 pages / ISBN 0064407314
Genre: YA
Rating:
Find @ Amazon or IndieBound
Read: June 2009
Source: Library Book Sale (bought)

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.

Monster has a very striking cover, doesn’t it? And the insides are just as striking as the outsides.

Summary from Amazon:

Sixteen-year-old Steve Harmon is on trial for murder. A Harlem drugstore owner was shot and killed in his store, and the word is that Steve served as the lookout.

Guilty or innocent, Steve becomes a pawn in the hands of “the system,” cluttered with cynical authority figures and unscrupulous inmates, who will turn in anyone to shorten their own sentences. For the first time, Steve is forced to think about who he is as he faces prison, where he may spend all the tomorrows of his life.

As a way of coping with the horrific events that entangle him, Steve, an amateur filmmaker, decides to transcribe his trial into a script, just like in the movies. He writes it all down, scene by scene, the story of how his whole life was turned around in an instant. But despite his efforts, reality is blurred and his vision obscured until he can no longer tell who he is or what is the truth. This compelling novel is Walter Dean Myers’s writing at its best.

I don’t read a lot of books like Monster, and I mean that on two levels: I don’t normally read literary YA fiction and I don’t normally read books as poignant and hard-hitting.

From the very first page I could tell Monster would be hitting me in a lot of soft places, and that even though it might hurt I should keep on reading ’til the end. It’s not that Monster is unnecessarily harsh or trying too hard to play on the emotions, it’s that the story Monster tells is so relevant to today and that’s what makes it tough: to know that this is really what kids are going through and will go through and it can’t easily be fixed. I really felt for this kid and his story, and the fact that the book doesn’t give us any easy answers– did he do it or didn’t he? is he a bad person or not?– just made it harder to digest.

The books is in diary entries, scripts, things like that, and it does give some distance from the events going on in the book. But I also think it highlights how Steve thinks of his world, like it isn’t really happening to him, like it’s a movie, and it actually keeps the book from getting too melodramatic. I really liked the format, as it so happens.

Monster reminds me a lot of Rule of the Bone or Tangerine, in that it has real people facing real situations, and nothing’s easily separated into good and evil. Things are complicated, and people are complicated, and I think Monster is excellent in showing that. (And, yeah, I think it’d make a great book to read in a class and discuss with people.)

I know I was kind of vague in my review, but that shouldn’t stop you from getting a copy and reading it yourself, okay? It’s really good, and even if you don’t believe me, look at those awards it’s won!

Other reviews: The Librarian’s Lighthouse | Stephanie’s Confessions of a Book-a-holic | My Round File | The Bluestocking Society

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