Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Myers, Walter Dean. Monster. New York:  HarperCollins Publishing, 1999. Print. 

Annotation:  Scared and alone, 16-year-old Steve Harmon cries silently at night in his jail cell.  Accused of being an accomplice to a murder and going through a trial, Steve decides to write a movie about his experiences.  He will call his movie, Monster, the name he was called by the prosecutor...but is he?  What will the jury believe?

Justification for Nomination:  Monster, written by lauded author, Walter Dean Myers, is the story of 16-year-old Steve Harmon, an African-American teen from Harlem, who has been accused of felony murder and is on trial for such.  Steve has been accused of being the “lookout guy” for a drugstore robbery gone array with the murder of the drugstore owner.  Steve faces life in prison or a possible death penalty, along with three other individuals; James King, Richard “Bobo” Evans, and Osvaldo Cruz, who all have different stories to share.  In the first sentence of the prologue, the emotional connection between Steve Harmon and the reader begins to take place.  

"The best time to cry is at night, when the lights are out and someone is being beaten up and screaming for help.  That way even if you sniffle a little they won’t hear you.” – Steve Harmon

Teens everywhere can relate to the range of emotions experienced by Steve, who is facing the battle of his life.  Yet in confronting these overwhelming circumstances, Steve still has hopes and dreams that extend beyond his situation.  An aspiring filmmaker, Steve decides to document his story as a movie. 
With the challenging script style writing undertaken by Myers, Monster is an excellent, compelling literary piece.  Walter Dean Myers is somehow able to snare the reader with this unorthodox format, and this is no easy task.  The screenplay format is initially somewhat distracting; with the descriptions of camera shots, fade-ins, fade-outs and such, but as the story moves forward, the distraction becomes less so as the reader adjusts to the format transitions.  Breaking away from the scenes, we are able to connect more deeply with Steve as he shares personal narratives describing his life, his family and his experiences. 
Monster fulfills a number of criteria that quantifies literary excellence.  For example, Monster breaks from the traditional format using a creative and unusual way of telling a story via script.  It also speaks to the teen experience in many ways, like addressing the pressures teens face from peers, parents, and society.  And, not only is Steve Harmon experiencing these intense emotions and experiences that resonant with teens, the story has a lesson or speaks to the issue that there are consequences for our actions, and often times there is suffering created by our decisions.  The story does not end with a victorious quest, but it does end with hope for the future, and a sense of something being learned.  Importantly, Monster addresses the foundation of young adult literature, which we know is the teens’ quest to discover who they are and where they fit into the world...the ‘who am I’ factor; the search for individuality and identity through perhaps difficult circumstances.  Steve Harmon states this in the last paragraph of the story:
            That is why I take the films of myself.  I want to know who I am.  I want to know the road to panic that I took.  I want to look at myself a thousand times to look for one true image.

"One True Image" of oneself and the search for it...this is what young adult literature should speak to!  Monster, is a truly unique experience to read, and possesses the literary criteria necessary to make it a book of excellence. 
Genre Category:  Young adult/Realistic Fiction/Multicultural

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