Myers, Walter Dean (1999). New York: Scholastic. ISBN-10: 0064407314/ ISBN-13: 978-0064407311

New York teen Steve Harmon is in prison on trial for murder, as he may have served as a lookout during a robbery in which the store owner was shot. Steve tells the story of his imprisonment and trial in a combination of journal entries and screenplay—in high school he is involved in a film program. We see the trial from Steve’s point of view as each attorney presents the case, and also scraps of the immediate past. As audience or jury we sift through the images and words provided trying to determine the truth about Steve’s behavior and character—is he the honest young film maker described by his teacher, or is he what the prosecutor calls him—a monster? As in real life, a legal verdict may not be enough to resolve this question.

Reader’s Annotation
Teen Steve Harmon does not want to be what the prosecutor called him: a Monster. On trial for murder he records his trial and imprisonment in journal and screenplay, and readers become both audience and jury.

Ambiguous, mysterious, and compelling, this work is far more morally and emotionally complex than many books for this age level. Looking at reviews posted on blogs, Amazon, or Wikipedia, some say “Steve participated as a lookout”; some say "Steve is innocent and must fight to prove it”; both groups assume their reading is correct. It is amazing that Myers manages to communicate the neighborhood and prison world of ugly violence and domination while actually using few if any graphic images or obscenities. One thing I would note: this book was piloted in our freshman curriculum for struggling readers, but the format of the book is very challenging for such students. The Scholastic Read 180 version comes with an audio tape, which is helpful.

About the author
Walter Dean Myers is a revered African American YA writer. He was raised by foster parents in Harlem, struggled in school, but always loved to read and write. He says he writes 10 pages a day, and when he’s got that, he’s done.

Contemporary YA

Curriculum Ties
English use

Booktalking Ideas
You be the jury: highlights from each lawyer’s closing
Prison at night
In what ways could Steve be a Monster?

Reading Level/Interest Age
13 and up (SLJ)

Challenge Issues
Implied prison rape scenes; violence, though not graphic

Be knowledgeable about the book and prepared to discuss it calmly. Provide complaint form per board policy;
Gather student responses; Share awards and reviews excerpted at Amazon:

Why Included?
Part of the Scholastic Read 180 Reading program I am teaching this year—was curious about the difficulty students have with this book.

Selection Tools
Scholastic Read 180 Program
National book Award Finalist
Michael Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature

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