Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Monster by Walter Dean Myers

4 Stars

“My job is to make sure the law works for you as well as against you, and to make you a human being in the eyes of the jury. Your job is to help me.”
You may recall several months ago a horrific tragedy befell my family – I LOST MY KINDLE IN MY OWN HOUSE!!!! I did what any sane reader would do and immediately went into meltdown mode and demanded the okay to order a new one (which was promptly given to me because I = psychopath and even the hubs don’t want to mess with me when I’m having a B.F.). After an hour or so I came to my senses (well, as much as is possible) and realized I should be placing the emphasis of the Kindle being lost IN MY OWN HOUSE. I figured as soon as the new one arrived I’d find the old and have to eat serious amounts of crow for eternity. So I did another thing that’s sure to win me my Mother Of The Year Award once again and purloined the youngest’s reader instead (since he pretty much only used it for Minecraft and that is whack). Months went by and then like magic my Kindle fell out from between the slats in the dining room chair where it had managed to wedge itself and remain incognito so long ago and I realized that if both Kindles were attached to my account I could force suggest a buddy read . . . .

You see, the young one is not necessarily a fan of reading, but it does count for a pretty whopping portion of his ELA grade so he is obligated. Last year he proved he was definitely not adopted when he hid in the john for 20 minutes every night like a shady little son-of-a-gun and wasn’t really reading at all. This year I learned from my mistake and had him read a book I had already read (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian if you’re curious.) And guess what happened?????

He still doesn’t loooooooove to read (and most assuredly stops when his 20 page requirement is over no matter how interesting he finds what’s going on), but he doesn’t moan and groan if presented contemporary realistic fiction. He also likes a low page count and he prefers an unconventional style if we can find it. And allllllllllllllllllllllllll of that ramble is what led us to Monster.

Monster is . . . .

“The incredible story of how one guy’s life was turned around by a few events and how he might spend the rest of his life behind bars. Told as it actually happened!”

The main character is Steve Harmon, a 16 year old boy who is on trial for murder of a corner store owner in Harlem. While only being accused of playing “lookout” for the men who actually committed the robbery/ended up shooting the victim, a zero tolerance policy for violent crimes has Steve facing 25 to life just as if he were the one who pulled the trigger.

Before getting sent to jail to wait out his trial date, Steve’s favorite hobby was making movies. Therefore, Monster reads like a screenplay and the reader discovers that . . . .

“Most people in our community are decent, hardworking citizens who pursue their own interests legally and without infringing on the rights of others. But there are also monsters in our communities – people who are willing to steal and to kill, people who disregard the rights of others.”

Over the course of 281 pages, you get to decide which category you think Steve belongs in.

This was a winner for both the kidlet and myself. A super fast read that easily held the interest of even the not-so-dedicated reader. It also presented quite the resume for itself: Michael L. Printz Award (2000), Coretta Scott King Award for Author Honor (2000), Lincoln Award Nominee (2005), National Book Award Finalist for Young People's Literature (1999), Boston Globe-Horn Book Award Honor for Fiction (1999) which leads me to my one gripe –NOT about the book, but about middle-school teaching/philosophies/beliefs/whatever in general . . . .

This book was ON A GIANT BULLETIN BOARD OF “RECOMMENDED READS” in the teacher’s classroom when we went in for Spring Parent/Teacher Conferences. Like Ralphie’s father in A Christmas Story, it won alllll the major awards. My kid read it BASED ON THE TEACHER’S SUGGESTION. And yet it’s not a story that is allowed to be discussed in class. Why the eff not????? Seriously parents, these kids are 12 and 13 years old. Steve Harmon was only 16 in this book when his entire life was potentially going to be snatched away from him. Books like this show the privileged suburbanite a taste of what really goes on in the world. Stop hiding them from your children and stop bitching at teachers that your special snowflake is too precious and delicate to know about the atrocities of modern day American and READ THEM WITH YOUR KID. Then talk about it. Then tell them about real life situations when you hear them on the news. Make sure they know the consequences in order to see that they (hopefully) won’t put themselves at the wrong place at the wrong time. Don’t stick your head in the sand for cripes sake!

If you have any other suggestions that fit the bill of realistic middle-grade fiction, please share below. My kid might not be super thankful, but I will be ; )

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