Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Monster by Walter Dean Myers

Monster is one of Walter Dean Myers's most popular books and is occasionally taught in school. It is written as a script and journal, a unique style that I felt both helped and hurt the story. While I know teens enjoy the book, I felt that it lacked something.

Steve Harmon is a 16 year old boy who is on trial for participating in a robbery that ended in homicide. In order to cope with the reality that he might be facing life in prison, Steve documents what's going on during the trial in a script as if what's happening to him is actually a movie rather than his life. The story, therefore, is the trial written out as a script. Mixed into the script are the occasional journal entry that reveal some of Steve's inner thoughts and fears, along with a few flashbacks from his life.

The fact that this is written as a script makes it an exceptionally fast read, which probably appeals to a lot of teen readers. The novel also doesn't hold back too much on the unpleasant aspects of jail-life. In other words, it gives a decent reality check of what might happen if you get caught in an unsavory situation. On the other hand, Steve somehow seemed to escape the truly horrible aspects of jail on a personal level - others were abused but not him, yet he was probably the youngest one there. Is that realistic, especially since he doesn't explain how the others left him alone? Even though he doesn't cry at night, he still seems like an easy target. Did the author hold back so as not to offend or turn-off readers? At the same time time, I felt that the trial pulled back from the actual story - you're looking at it rather than being a part of it. True, that's what Steve seemed to be doing, but as a reader, it's better to be a part of it. The story lacked character development. People came in and out of the story without making a mark - although Myers does do a good job of giving the characters realistic voices, so they seem real but they could still be anyone. Even Steve, whose head we get into, seems to be missing something. You can't tell if he's innocent or guilty. I ended the novel wanting more. It all went by too fast.

For teens this is a great novel to introduce them to many different things from unique storytelling to trial life to consequences of actions to life in jail. There are many things to talk about such as whether or not he's really guilty or not, how does a person's past change his or her credibility, and how should Steve be punished if he was merely a participant yet not completely involved. While the novel does have that working for it, as a whole it still lacks something in my eyes in terms of story telling and development. A little more would have made it better.

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