Book Review: Monster by Walter Dean Myers

Book Review: Monster by Walter Dean Myers

Title: Monster
Author: Walter Dean Myers
Publisher: Amistad
Paperback: 281 pages
Source: Own
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

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..

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Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I wish I’d read this book at a younger age, because I think it’s an amazing introduction to racism and how people view even black teenage boys as dangerous and are more likely to consider them guilty of crimes, even with circumstantial evidence. This story is told through the point of view of Steve, who was in the wrong place at the wrong time and associated with the wrong people. The format of the book is interesting in that Steve likes making movies and he filters the events through a sort of screenplay; describing how he would frame the scenes and edit the dialogue if he were to make a movie out of them.

The story moves quickly, but it’s intense. You’re thrown right into the action and I found myself rooting for Steve almost right away; I was completely immersed into his experiences and thoughts. The screenplay aspect does give a level of removal to the story itself, and it frames it in an interesting way. It’s almost as if Myers is forcing us to look at the events and evaluate them for ourselves. How would we make our own movie out of what happened? How would we frame what was happening? What would we include? What would we conclude from Steve’s version of events if we didn’t have his voice helping us along to make our own conclusions?

There’s a focus on bias and the politics of crime, which is an amazing introduction for younger readers to the prevalence of racism and how our prejudices can get in the way of logical reasoning and even empathy for another human. It does a great job of calling these out while also keeping you grounded in Steve’s story and wanting him to get a not-guilty verdict. I would definitely recommend everyone to read this; it’s poignant, emotional, and teaches hard truths.

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