Monster / Walter Dean Myers ; illustrations by Christopher Myers.
Booklist Monthly Selections - #1 May 1999
Gr. 9^-12. Myers combines an innovative format, complex moral issues, and an intriguingly sympathetic but flawed protagonist in this cautionary tale of a 16-year-old on trial for felony murder. Steve Harmon is accused of acting as lookout for a robbery that left a victim dead; if convicted, Steve could serve 25 years to life. Although it is clear that Steve did participate in the robbery, his level of involvement is questionable, leaving protagonist and reader to grapple with the question of his guilt. An amateur filmmaker, Steve tells his story in a combination of film script and journal. The "handwritten" font of the journal entries effectively uses boldface and different sizes of type to emphasize particular passages. The film script contains minimal jargon, explaining camera angles (CU, POV, etc.) when each term first appears. Myers' son Christopher provides the black-and-white photos, often cropped and digitally altered, that complement the text. Script and journal together create a fascinating portrait of a terrified young man wrestling with his conscience. The tense drama of the courtroom scenes will enthrall readers, but it is the thorny moral questions raised in Steve's journal that will endure in readers' memories. Although descriptions of the robbery and prison life are realistic and not overly graphic, the subject matter is more appropriate for high-school-age than younger readers. ((Reviewed May 1, 1999)) Copyright 2000 Booklist Reviews
Horn Book Magazine Reviews 1999 #3
Arrested and charged with murder, sixteen-year-old Steve Harmon is writing a screenplay of his ordeal. Interspersed with his handwritten journal entries, Steve's script makes up a novel that in both form and subject guarantees a wide teen audience. Balancing courtroom drama and a sordid jailhouse setting with flashbacks to the robbery that resulted in a shopkeeper's murder, Myers adeptly allows each character to speak for him or herself, leaving readers to judge for themselves the truthfulness of the defendants, witnesses, lawyers, and, most compel-lingly, Steve himself. Did Steve serve as a lookout for the robbery? Was he in the store at all? Through all the finessing and obfuscation of the trial process, readers will find plenty of evidence for a variety of conflicting opinions. Even the cri de coeur in Steve's journal leaves plenty of room for interpretation: "I didn't do nothing! I didn't do nothing!" Tailor-made for readers' theater, this book is a natural to get teens reading-and talking. r.s. Copyright 1999 Horn Book Magazine Reviews
PW Reviews 1999 April #1
In this riveting courtroom drama, Steve Harmon, a Harlem teenager involved in a murder, recounts his trial in the form of a movie script. The objectivity with which he records testimony and flashbacks of events leading up to the crime ("Steve is sitting on a bench, and James King sits with him. King is bleary-eyed and smokes a joint as he talks") belies the deep emotions Steve expresses in his prison journal: "I go to bed every night terrified out of my mind. I have nightmares whenever I close my eyes." Readers will not question the 16-year-old's relationship to the crime; that is established early in the novel. However, opinions will vary as to whether Steve deserves sympathy or rebuke. Myers (Scorpions; Somewhere in the Darkness) masterfully conveys the complexity of Steve's character by presenting numerous angles of his personality. From the prosecuting attorney's point of view, he is a "monster." According to a character witness, Steve's high-school film teacher, Steve is "an outstanding young man... talented, bright, and compassionate." The only person who does not offer a clear, pat appraisal of Steve is Steve himself. Even after the verdict is delivered he is not able to make sense of who he is: the final image of him filming himself as he gazes into a mirror, searching for his identity ("I want to look at myself a thousand times to look for one true image") will leave a powerful, haunting impression on young minds. This would make an ideal companion to Virginia Walter's Making Up Megaboy for an insightful look at a teenage suspect's lost innocence. Ages 12-up. (May) Copyright 1999 Publishers Weekly Reviews