Myers, Walter Dean. 1999. Monster. New York: HarperTempest. ISBN: 9780064407311
Steve Harmon is only sixteen, but he is on trial for felony murder. Told through film format, Steve takes the reader though his trial with flashbacks to his life before going to jail. Steve is an average young man who makes a few choices that lead him to either being in the wrong place at the wrong time or participating in a heinous crime, depending on whether you believe the prosecution or the defense. The "film" shows Steve's day to day life in prison, his trial, and the eventual outcome of the trial.
This is an amazing book for so many reasons. First, the set-up is different, which grabs the readers attention. Its format is that of a film, so the story is told from a camera's point of view with film direction added to the narrative. Inside the action are glimpses of the narrator's thoughts through what appear to be journal entries. Lower readers will love the book because a lot of side elements like details on setting or extraneous information is left out, leaving just the pertinent information of the story. Therefore lower readers will not waste precious energy struggling to read extra information that enthralls faster readers but boggles down reluctant readers.
Second is the subject matter, which is a sixteen-year-old African-American boy on trial for murder. Because of his age, younger readers can relate to this thought process and feelings. Because the crime involved acquaintances of Steve, students can relate to the idea of friends getting them into trouble. Myers shows how fair-weathered friends will turn on one another to benefit themselves as Bobo does in the story. Because students can relate to the topic so much, it can be related to their own lives and be a way to not only communicate with the young adults but also give some advice without lecturing...let the book speak to them.
The third is the lack of detail. Myers leaves a lot of detail to the reader's imagination. Steve writes, "I hate, hate, hate this place," but he never tells us why. Readers are allowed to let their imaginations and prior knowledge/hearsay of jail to influence what could make Steve hate jail. Myers also has Steve say,"I feel terrible. My stomach is gassy and bloated. I still can't go to the bathroom in front of everyone." Although the sentences are short and simple, it gives the reader insight that even the most ordinary of daily events is not the same in jail. (Plus, young adult boy readers love anything about body functions!)
School Libary Journal--"Monster is a must purchase for all middle and high school libraries. English teachers should be encouraged to use this audiobook as a possible writing prompt or as an introduction to readers' theater."-Lynda N. Short Copyright 2000 Cahners Business.
Children's Literature--"This is a powerful, intense, thought-provoking story. It is great for discussions about the judicial system, pre-judging, self-perception, parent-child relationships and our prison system."
I use literature circles in my classroom, and I believe this would be a great book for literature circle. Those kids who hate long books or choose books simply based on length would love the style and set-up of the book while still making me happy by reading a great book.
I think it would also be a great book to read as the book club book through the school library. I think the book has so many aspects for discussion that it shouldn't be limited to one subject area. I think it's also a book that kids should be able to bring out the topics that interest them most because there are so many: parent-child relationship, jail, making good choices, law and trials, friends, and many more.
(In fact, I read this book during silent reading time in my classroom, and I had three or four kids put their names down to read it when I finished.)