~posted by guest blogger, Cady Anderson
With awards plastered on the cover, rave reviews, and the knowledge that this is an “important book,” I knew it was one of those books I should have read by now. But in the wake of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Freddie Gray’s death in Baltimore and the resulting riots across the nation, this book found me at the right time. Monster by Walter Dean Myers deserves to be brought to the forefront of discussions again. Despite having been published sixteen years ago in 1999, this book remains relevant today.
Monster is about a young man, Steve Harmon, on trial for murder. The trial is defined by two crucial facts – Steve is black and sixteen years old. As Steve delivers his perspective of the events surrounding his time spent in jail and his trial, he creates a movie script. As the script unfolds, the reader discovers more about the events that led up to the trial: a robbery at a convenience store that left the owner dead. Steve and several other young black males were involved and the book requires the reader to decipher what happened – to determine who is innocent and who is guilty.
One downside of the novel is the manner in which the book is written. The stylistic choice of the movie script demands the reader’s full attention in order to make sense of the timeline, characters, and social commentary. Some readers may find the script distracting, but the choice in style does add to the discussion about the effectiveness of the book’s message and the definition of “truth” in crimes and trials such as these.
In the opening statements of the trial, Steve Harmon’s attorney spoke in his defense in a way that naturally allowed me to make connections to the riots and news media coverage of Ferguson and Baltimore – “As Mr. Harmon’s attorney all I ask of you, the jury, is that you look at Steve Harmon now and remember that at this moment the American system of justice demands that you consider him innocent. He is innocent until proven guilty.” This quote demonstrates how relevant this text has remained. This is the only reason you need to read this book – because this book matters. The title “Monster” is used to demonstrate how humans are treated based on prejudices and how people of color, specifically black men, are made to be guilty before they may be considered innocent. This book is full of powerful ideas and forces the reader to think through their own contradicting emotions in order to re-examine the society in which we live in.