Monster by Walter Dean Myers
Steve Harmon is sixteen years old and on trial for murder in Monster by Walter Dean Myers, which takes the reader through the suspenseful trial and the verdict. Steve is a young man who has never been in trouble before. Suddenly, he finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Is he truly guilty or just guilty by association? Can a young man be on trial for having made poor choices?
Steve recounts the events that transpired the night of the robbery at the convenience store. He says he just happened to be there at the moment the robbery and murder took place. But a murder did occur and the prosecution is looking for the guilty party -- and they think they have found it in Steve. The term "monster" is the one used by the prosecutor as she describes Steve and his alleged actions -- but is Steve really a monster or is she just trying to build a case against Steve? When Steve hears this term used to describe himself, he is very disturbed.
The story is a riveting account of a young man's terrifying journey through the justice system. It is also an introspective journey through the mind of a young teen as he awaits the verdict for a crime he says he did not commit. Since Steve is a filmmaker and involved with the after-school film program, the entire story is told as a screenplay. This format is powerful as we hear the voice of Steve and the other individuals as they testify on the stand. The voices of the attorneys are equally significant. The prosecutor is building a very strong case against Steve. The defense attorney is sharp but at times expresses some concern over Steve's fate. The reader has to wait to the very end of the trial and the story to find out if Steve is guilty or innocent.
Monster does a great job of displaying the legal process and introducing teens to the details of a murder trial. The courtroom drama is also set against the reality of Steve's description of his jail experience. Monster is a good book for a group discussion. Following the courtroom proceedings will open up a lot of dialogue as the readers discuss the procedures. Also, the guilt or innocence of the parties can be discussed.