Merry Wanderer of the Night + YA

Award Winning Wednesday — Monster by Walter Dean Meyers

Monsterby Walter Dean Meyers was the first recipient of the Printz Award in 2000. It's the story of a young black kid on trial as an accessory to murder, although he's being tried as a full participant in the crime. 16 year old Steve is confused, scared and alone. The ADA calls him a monster, his court appointed defense lawyer thinks he's guilty, and his own parents aren't really sure who he is any more. Shoot, he's not even sure who he is anymore.

Because he's so confused right now, Steve decides to try and make sense of things the only way he knows how. He decides to turn the entire court and prison proceedings into a screenplay. He was taking a film class in school before being arrested and now uses the knowledge he gained there to try and cope with his situation. Interspersed throughout the screenplay are also journal entries from Steve where we have a chance to hear him talk openly about what he's feeling and struggling with.

I loved the format here. I loved viewing the court and all the proceedings through the lens that Steve puts on himself. The screenplay is not only his way to make sense of and cope with things, on some level, it's also his way of distancing himself from what is happening. This court case is going to completely change his life. If he's convicted, he'll be going to jail for a minimum of 20 years. That's a lot of a 16 year old kid to handle, and there are moments when he just needs to make it take a back seat.

Steve's thoughts are also unclear for most of the book. We are never actually sure if Steve is guilty, because I'm not sure Steve himself really understands if he is guilty or not. As we watch catch glimpses of his memories and are able to see more of how the events unfold, we are able to get a better idea of how Steve got to be in this situation. He wants to fit in with the tough guys in his neighborhood, wants to be tough like them, so he starts spending more time around them and through a series of bad decisions and moments where he let good choices go by, Steve finds himself with all of his time split between prison and court.

It's hard to watch Steve go through this. It's hard to see any young teen who might completely lose their freedom because of a series of bad choices, even though they are generally a good kid. I thought Meyers did an excellent job bringing enough ambiguity to Steve's character that we never really know if he's guilty, we never really know how involved he was, but we are also given enough information about him to know that he isn't a bad person. The scenes with Steve's family are especially painful. How do you talk to your kid when he's facing a murder charge and while you desperately want to believe he's innocent, deep down you aren't really sure?!

This one is a reread for me. I read it for the first time a few years ago and have been wanting to reread it for a while now. And I have to say, it's just as powerful now as it was then. It's not one to be missed.

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Award Winning Wednesday — Monster by Walter Dean Meyers + YA