Monday, September 6, 2010

"I can't write it enough times to make it look the way I feel."

Monster by Walter Dean Myers
Weight: 12 oz.
Method of Disposal: Donation

I picked this book up when I was working my latest bookstore stint. I love young adult and teenage literature, and it caught my eye. Parents were upset about it, kids were asking for it by name, and the author was prolific. I was curious. It was also one of a handful of books that did not have a white person’s face on the cover in the teenage section.

It is about a sixteen year old boy, Steve Harmon, who is in jail and on trial for felony murder for being a lookout, if he was even that. The book is written in the form of a screenplay. There are just a few perfect pictures placed throughout the book at just the right times.

Things I loved:
• I appreciate the author trying out a style not often seen in the genre.
• I like the well-placed photos.
• I love it when children’s authors treat their audience as competent and intelligent human beings. Myers does this, and he does not shy away from difficult things, hence the reason so many parents got pissed off.
• The book does not avoid the topic of systemic racism.
• I thought the book review questions at the back were somewhat useful.

Things I wish would happen:
• I wish this book was one of many books on the shelves in the young adult/teenage section that had black leading characters and voices. Unfortunately, it is one of few. I think it could be misunderstood, attacked, and not allowed to reach its full potential in these circumstances. On the one hand, it shows the world a bunch of hoodlums in Harlem living the life of crime but, on the other, it humanizes these “hoodlums.” And if I had a third hand, it is a part of reality that people who are not considered to be white are more likely to be arrested and jailed—not because they are the only people committing crimes. Racism runs deep in our systems and codes.
• I would also like a little more time alone with Steve Harmon before the robbery. I feel like I did not get a clear view of him as a person during that time. There were a few cliché moments, though they kind of worked since Steve was supposedly writing the play/those moments as you were reading it.

Neither here nor there:
• The form will aggravate some kids, but it will enthrall others. It will also get the book read more often. I know from working in bookstores that many kids pick the book on the list with the shortest number of pages, but when that fails they flip through the pages to see the size of the font and whatnot. Monster looks like a book they can read fast, and it is.

I don’t know what else to say. I think it is a useful and good book. It was not riveting or life-changing, but it holds its place in the world. It would probably be best utilized in an 8th/9th grade setting.

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