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Monster by Walter Dean Myers is an engrossing and thought provoking novel about a young man on trial for murder. The novel is constructed in the form of a film script detailing the progress of a trial with occasional flashbacks.
Monster is set in Harlem and Manhattan. Steve Harmon, the 16-year old African-American protagonist, is on trial for felony murder. On December 22nd at about 4:30pm, Alguinaldo Nesbitt, a 55-year old man from St Kitt, is shot and killed during the robbery of his drugstore in Harlem. The register was emptied and a number of cartons of cigarettes were stolen. Harmon and James King, a 23-year old man, were arrested and are now on trial. The novel describes Harmon's experience during the twelve days of the trial both at the courthouse and in the Manhattan Detention Center. Through Harmon's eyes reader gets to meet the lawyers, court officers, the witnesses, and Harmon's various cellmates. Suspense is kept right up to the very last page when the verdict is finally read.
The novel is a murder trial from the prisoner's point of view. Unlike court cases shown in the movies and on television, this trial has no glitzÖno glamour. There are no crusaders for justice facing off hordes of evil to see justice done. There are no heroic detectives turning over every last leaf to find the definitive shred of evidence revealing the protagonist's innocence. The conditions of the cells are portrayed as squalid and the prison environment is filled with assorted dangerous, violent, and lust-filled predators. The witnesses are not always the most stellar, up-standing citizens and included a drug dealer, a car thief, and a number of prison "moles" in it to cut a deal for a reduced sentence. Harmon's lawyer while upbeat, only half-heartedly believes he will get off. The lawyers, in general, are portrayed as sharp game players out to win their case. The judge, the jurors, and the court officers are portrayed as bored by the proceedings or more interested in their own personal lives. Except for the protagonist and his family, few of the characters are emotionally invested in the trial. It is a sad, but I imagine a realistic picture of the legal process where for all but the defendant, it is just another day on the job in the legal system.
Walter Dean Myers is the author of more than 75 books for young people. Myers was born in West Virginia but raised in Harlem. His autobiography which was written for young people is entitled, Bad Boy: a Memoir (2002). He has received many awards, including National Endowment of the Arts grant (1982 & 1989); the MacDowell Fellowship (1988); American Library Association (ALA) Margaret A. Edwards Award for Lifetime Achievement in Writing for Young Adults (1994), and ALAN Award (1994). Many of his books have received awards including, Where Does the Day Go? (1968 Council on Interracial Books for Children Award); The Dancers (1972 Child Study Association of America's Children's Books of the Year); Fast Sam, Cool Clyde and Stuff (1975 ALA Notable Children's Books List); Ain't All for Nothin' (1978 ALA Notable Children's Books List, 1978 ALA Best Books For Young Adults List); The Young Landlords (1980 Coretta Scott King Award, 1979 ALA Notable Children's Books List, 1979 ALA Best Books For Young Adults List); Legend of Tarik (1982 Notable Children's Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies from the National Council for Social Studies and the Children's Book Council, 1981 ALA Notable Children's Books List,1981 ALA Best Books For Young Adults List); Hoops (1994 Margaret A. Edwards Award, 1982 Edgar Allan Poe Award runner-up, 1982 ALA Notable Children's Books List, 1982 ALA Best Books For Young Adults List); Won't Know Til' I Get There (1982 Parents' Choice Foundation Award); Tales of a Dead King (1983 New Jersey Institute Technology Authors Award); The Outside Shot (1984 Parents' Choice Foundation Award); Motown (1985 Coretta Scott King Award); Didi (1985 Coretta Scott King Award); Adventure in Granada (1987 Child Study Association of America's Children's Books of the Year); Fallen Angels (1989 Coretta Scott King Award, 1988 Parents' Choice Foundation Award, 1988 ALA Best Books For Young Adults List); Me, Mop, and the Moondance Kid (1988 ALA Notable Children's Books List); Scorpions (1989 Newbery Honor Book, 1988 ALA Notable Children's Books List, 1988 ALA Best Books For Young Adults List); Now Is Your Time (1992 Coretta Scott King Award,1992 ALA Best Books For Young Adults List); Somewhere in the Darkness (1993 Newbery Honor Book, 1993 Coretta Scott King Award,1993 ALA Notable Children's Books List, 1993 ALA Best Books For Young Adults List,1992 Boston Globe/Horn Book Award,); Malcolm X (1994 Coretta Scott King Award); Slam! 1997 Coretta Scott King Award; Harlem (1998 Caldecott Honor Book, 1998 Coretta Scott King Award, 1998 ALA Best Books For Young Adults List); and Monster (1999 Michael L. Printz Award, 1999 Coretta Scott King Author Honor Award, and 1998 National Book Award Finalist). Mr. Myers lives in New Jersey with his family. Shooter (2004) is his latest novel.
Monster by Walter Dean Myers is a well written novel. It is the winner of the Michael L. Printz Award, the Coretta Scott King Author Honor Award, and a finalist for the National Book Award Finalist. It is a stiff warning on the consequences of getting involved in illegal activities. It should be mandatory reading for every young person. The book is recommended for Grade 8 and up. I highly recommend this book.
© 2004 Su Terry
Su Terry: Education: B.A. in History from Sacred Heart University, M.L.S. in Library Science from Southern Connecticut State College, M.R.S. in Religious Studies/Pastoral Counseling from Fairfield University, a M.Div. in Professional Ministry from New Brunswick Theological Seminary, a Certificate in Spirituality/Spiritual Direction from Sacred Heart University. She is a Licensed Minister of the United Church of Christ and an Assistant Professor in Library Science at Dowling College, Long Island, NY.