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Flashback Friday: Monster by Walter Dean Myers

TITLE: Monster

AUTHOR: Walter Dean Myers

LENGTH: 281 pages

PUBLISHER: Amistad; Edition Unstated edition (May 8, 2001)

SUMMARY: (amazon.com review summary) “Monster” is what the prosecutor called 16-year-old Steve Harmon for his supposed role in the fatal shooting of a convenience-store owner. But was Steve really the lookout who gave the “all clear” to the murderer, or was he just in the wrong place at the wrong time? In this innovative novel by Walter Dean Myers, the reader becomes both juror and witness during the trial of Steve’s life. To calm his nerves as he sits in the courtroom, aspiring filmmaker Steve chronicles the proceedings in movie script format. Interspersed throughout his screenplay are journal writings that provide insight into Steve’s life before the murder and his feelings about being held in prison during the trial. “They take away your shoelaces and your belt so you can’t kill yourself no matter how bad it is. I guess making you live is part of the punishment.”

BRIDGE: I have used this book as a read aloud and as a literature circle selection. I have had great success with both. While the screenplay format is a little difficult to translate in a read aloud, I have found that it’s more succesful if one can project the text through an overhead or document camera so students can follow along. In order for them to really appreciate the screenplay format, they need to see it. In literature circles, I like to use this book with other titles dealing with stereotyping and unreliable narrators. As a reader, one must decide if Steve is telling the truth about his involvement. It is interesting to pair this story with others where readers must make a decision about the narrator’s character. As with Swear to Howdy this is another good title to use when introducing Socratic Seminar. Students usually have strong opinions about the “racial profiling” that is implied in the story as well as whether or not some of the other characters are “snitches”. It is also a good way to introduce a non-traditional writing mode into your writing curriculum. Students who have no desire to write essays may be motivated to write a screenplay or TV screenplay.

READERS: This is an excellent book for reluctant readers or readers who are struggling. It is high interest with little difficulty and the nuances of the writing can be teased out after the reading. Readers who enjoy stories of justice or injustice will like this book and fans of Myers won’t be disappointed.

OTHER TITLES: Readers who enjoyed this book might also enjoy The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie, The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier, or Mexican White-Boy by Matt de la Pena.

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