Friday, August 21, 2009

Monster: The First Printz Award Winner

As part of my ongoing quest to read the entire list of Michael L. Printz Award winner and honor books, I picked up Monster by Walter Dean Myers (281 pgs, Harper Collins, 2001). Not only was this book the very first winner of the Printz Award, it was also nominated for a National Book Award and was named a Coretta Scott King Award Honor. Figured it would be worth my time!

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. If anybody knows you are crying, they'll start talking about it and soon it's be your turn to get beat up when the lights go out.

Sixteen-year-old Steve Harmon is in jail. He is awaiting trial as an adult for felony murder. He is a relatively good kid from Harlem, that was the supposed lookout in a holdup at a drugstore. When things went wrong, the cashier was killed. Steve is looking at 25 years to life if he is convicted.

What makes this book unique is the format in which it is written. Because Steve was in a film club in high school, he tells his story of the trial as if it was written to be a screenplay. The rest of the book is in diary format. The prosecutor called the defendants Monsters. So this is the title Steve is using for his screenplay.

Also on trial is the alleged shooter, James King, a gang member. Steve was an acquaintance of King's.

I was very impressed with this story. The format, as strange as it was to read, really worked. It was like watching an episode of Law and Order! The harsh reality of prison life is made abundantly clear through the diary entries. Although sixteen qualifies Steve as an adult, it is plain to see that he is just a very scared little boy who is looking at spending the rest of his life behind bars. Is he really a monster that deserves this fate? Was he really the lookout during the botched robbery? Did he really want to be like King and the other gang members? Or was he just a boy who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? That is actually left up to you, the reader, to decide.

Honestly, this book should be mandatory reading in high school. The diary entries give you a glimpse into the harrowing world of prison. Here is an example:

Lying on my cot, I think of everything that happened over the last year. There was nothing extraordinary in my life. No bolt of lightning came out of the sky. I didn't say a magic word and turn into somebody different. But here I am, on the verge of losing my life, or the life I used to have. I can understand why they take your shoelaces and belt from you when you're in jail. When the lights went out, I think I heard someone crying in the darkness.

It is so raw and honest, you can feel the fear that Steve is feeling. Any student that reads this book, might think twice before doing something really stupid. An excellent book that rightful deserves the awards it was given. 4.75/5


Kailana said...

I wasn't a big fan of the books style. That surprised me, actually. It was still good, but I wouldn't rate it quite as high as you did.

Amanda said...

Excellent review! I'm also reading all the Printz winners and honor books, eventually, but this review has made me look forward to this particular book much more!

Nymeth said...

The Printz AND Coretta Scott King Award?! And plus, your fabulous review, of course. I have a feeling I'll love this too.

Trish said...

I'm so glad you posted about this one because I recently saw it in the stores while looking for books for my brother but hadn't heard of it before. Would you say it's too old for an 8th grader? I guess I should pick it up for myself too! :P

Thoughts of Joy said...

This sounds like something I would love to read. On the list it goes - and off to Amazon as well. :) Thanks, Stephanie.

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