"I've never seen my father cry before. He wasn't crying like I thought a man would cry. Everything was just pouring out of him and I hated to see his face. What did I do? What did I do?"
Sixteen-year-old Steve Harmon is on trial for supposedly being involved in a robbery that ended in the death of a convenience store owner. He is convicted of being a lookout in the crime, but the question throughout the book is if he is truly guilty or if he is just caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Walter Dean Myers' "Monster" changed my perception of prison life, proposed many intriguing questions about the American judicial system, and put me in a position where I could relate to a character I have very little to nothing in common with. Although the plot of this story could sound alluring to any type of reader, the format of the writing likely will make or break the book for the reader.
Steve is beginning to imagine his life and predicament as a movie, and he decides to write it as such in his journal, which he is allowed to keep while in prison during trial. The text literally reads like a movie script. As someone with a passion for film and writing, I found this composition to add to the uniqueness of the book and it made a more interesting read.
However, I feel that if it had been written in a more "traditional" way, I would have enjoyed the book even more. I understand the idea of having your book stand out through a unique style of writing, but in this case I feel it wasn't necessary, though it did help make the long scenes of dialogue in court easier to follow without becoming confusing or boring.
Race and socio-economic class play a huge roll in this story.
Steve is a young black man from a impoverished, high-crime area of the city, and the jury may be prejudice against him. The author creates this vulnerable, fearful character in a terrifying situation.
As a reader, I was able to relate even though I had never actually been in a situation such as Steve's. Almost all of the book is set in court, listening to witnesses, attorneys and suspects, and for the most part the only time we hear Steve talking is through his monologue journal entries, though there are some conversations between him and other people.
Information is dealt out slowly and somewhat sparingly throughout the text, and especially in the beginning it is hard to tell if Steve is truly innocent or not. As a reader, it is all about opinion, and there are many decisions you have to make both intentionally and involuntarily about the case to get your answers, much like a member of the jury, the overriding question in the book being: what did Steve do?
I recommend this book for ages 12 and up.