Monster – Walter Dean Myers
This New York Times bestselling novel and National Book Award nominee from acclaimed author Walter Dean Myers tells the story of Steve Harmon, a teenage boy in juvenile detention and on trial. Presented as a screenplay of Steve's own imagination, and peppered with journal entries, the book shows how one single decision can change our whole lives.
Review: Sixteen-year-old Steve is on trial for the role he played in a robbery and murder of a shopkeeper. To cope with the stress of the trial, Steve starts recording his life as if it were a movie. Steve’s story is told through a mixture of diary entries, movie script, and illustrations.
I was a little hesitant to read this book because I don’t like courtroom dramas. I usually find them tedious. Fortunately, the script format of Monster cuts out most of the boring parts. This book is fast-paced and very easy to read. I sped through it in a few hours. The majority of the story does happen in a courtroom, but the courtroom scenes are broken up with illustrations, flashbacks, and Steve’s diary entries about life in jail.
The best part of this book is its ambiguity. Since most of the story is a screenplay, the reader becomes a jury member who is watching Steve’s trial. Like any good lawyer, the author is very careful about what information he reveals and how he reveals it. Steve is an unreliable narrator, so you’re never completely sure who you should trust. A lot of readers will come to a different conclusion than the jury at the end of the story. I love that this book encourages audience participation. The reader is forced to make judgments about the characters based on less-than-trustworthy testimony. It really does feel like you’re sitting on a jury.
I know that the author wanted to create a sense of mystery and uncertainty about Steve, but I would have liked more backstory. How did he get involved with criminals? I also wanted to know more about the robbery and murder. If the teens were going to split the money four ways, would the crime even be worth it? How much money is in a convenience store register? I can’t imagine that the teens got very much from the robbery.
The only time that I didn’t like the screenplay format was at the very end. Each of the lawyers has a multi-page monologue. I know that the closing statements are realistic, but they aren’t very interesting to read.
Monster left me wanting more, but I wasn’t unsatisfied. This book provides a unique reading experience that I’ve never gotten from another book. I think it’s worth reading.