Monster by Walter Dean Myers, a 2000 Printz award winner, is a book I read in two days. I love when that happens. This summer is off to a great start. It's fun to fly through a book.
The large handwriting type of print and the format, the main character is telling the story through a movie script, really helps with the fast read. I also think the storyline keeps you engaged; you will find yourself wanting to know if Steve Harmon really did participate in the robbery and/or the murder.
The basic storyline is Steve is living in a detention center in New York City while he is on trial for a murder at a drugstore in his Harlem neighborhood. Steve writes about the trial in movie script format. At points in the story you get flashbacks to that day of the murder as well as his time with his family. By the end of the novel, you hear the jury's verdict of Steve, but you still get to decide for yourself on what you think Steve really did.
I gave Monster 4 out of 5 stars. I felt it rightly won the Printz award for it's subject matter, unique format, and character development. It was a great book. However, the storyline seemed a little weak at points. I realize Myers wanted it to be vague so you as a reader had to make a decision and to really keep you involved and vested in the story, but points of the story were so weak I found myself re-reading to really see if I read it wrong or if there was just a large gap in the story.
On the positive side, I felt the character development was fabulous. As the reader I found myself really feeling for Steve, understanding his thoughts and emotions, and really seeing and experiencing his growth as a character. I also felt the format was fun, and I was still able to really feel for Steve through his personal narrative. However, with this movie script format I found myself skimming the unimportant facts (parts about what the shot was doing or the setting).
I also felt the storyline of life in Harlem for a teenage boy was interesting. Though, the subject matter of life in jail and Harlem does make for it being a bit raw at times. It's not a dirty book (there is no language or sexual scenes) but it does mention some of the things that do happen in jail like violence, sexual violence, and language. However, none of the violence is really described into detail, it just mentions that it goes on.
Who is this book for? It think 8th grade and up boys, and especially reluctant readers will enjoy this book. At 277 pages it is a long enough book for any school assignment, but it is a fast read with a great topic for boys. Girls will read it, but I don't think girls will find the topic nearly as interesting. Though, a teacher could use this as a class read, and have a lot of really good discussions from the book.
Amazon had the following book review:
"Monster" is what the prosecutor called 16-year-old Steve Harmon for his supposed role in the fatal shooting of a convenience-store owner. But was Steve really the lookout who gave the "all clear" to the murderer, or was he just in the wrong place at the wrong time? In this innovative novel by Walter Dean Myers, the reader becomes both juror and witness during the trial of Steve's life. To calm his nerves as he sits in the courtroom, aspiring filmmaker Steve chronicles the proceedings in movie script format. Interspersed throughout his screenplay are journal writings that provide insight into Steve's life before the murder and his feelings about being held in prison during the trial. "They take away your shoelaces and your belt so you can't kill yourself no matter how bad it is. I guess making you live is part of the punishment."
Myers, known for the inner-city classic Motown and Didi (first published in 1984), proves with Monster that he has kept up with both the struggles and the lingo of today's teens. Steve is an adolescent caught up in the violent circumstances of an adult world--a situation most teens can relate to on some level. Readers will no doubt be attracted to the novel's handwriting-style typeface, emphasis on dialogue, and fast-paced courtroom action. By weaving together Steve's journal entries and his script, Myers has given the first-person voice a new twist and added yet another worthy volume to his already admirable body of work."