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Cathy YoungFADE IN: Sixteen-year-old Steve Harmon sits on the edge of a cot in Cell Block D of the Manhattan Detention Center. A dingy gray, early morning light filters in from the window and splashes his light brown face. Next to him, as the camera moves into focus, we see the suit he will wear to court. His trial starts today.
This is the beginning of "Monster!" -- a film written and directed by and also starring Steve Harmon. It's the "incredible story of how one guy's life was turned around by a few events, and how he might have to spend the rest of his life behind bars...told as it actually happened."
Cinema Vérité, you say? That's a term that Steve's film teacher might use to describe a film that "conveys realism." No, "Monster!" is even more real and frightening than that. This is the story of what happens when the world turns inside out for Steve Harmon, when the teen finds himself on trial for felony murder. In order to cope as the drama of his life unfolds, Steve blocks out the events and dialogue that swirl around him. He's the writer, the director, and the star of his own real-life horror story. And eerily, he has no idea how "Monster!" will end.
Neither do we.
What is certain is that Monster, Walter Dean Myers's new blockbuster novel, will captivate readers' imaginations from its opening pages until long after the last scene fades. In fact, Myers unravels Steve Harmon's story so masterfully, so sensitively, that very few readers will be able to set the book down without feeling as though their own lives have been changed somehow. Yes, Monster is that good.
Who are this novel's intended readers? More specifically, who should they be? Some consideration of these questions is necessary for this unusual book. Mature teens will devour Monster. Adults will too, and in fact will find the mixed screenplay/journal format refreshing and fast-paced, not kid-like at all. Frankly, though, I believe younger teens may be impacted most profoundly and positively by the story of Steve Harmon, who stumbles almost unknowingly into a nightmare that might keep him locked behind bars the rest of his life. However, these younger teen readers may need some guidance and support while reading Monster. It's a gritty tale. While Myers deals discreetly with the jail's lack of privacy open toilets and frequent invasions of privacy for example, sexual coercion between inmates, he doesn't obscure those realities. We watch Steve sit in that courtroom and sympathize with his stomach distress, which is not merely the result of nervousness over the outcome of the trial but worsened because he's not comfortable using the toilet in open sight of the other prisoners.
As he writes in his introductory note to readers, Walter Dean Myers, in writing Monster , hoped to show the steps that lead someone "from innocence to criminal acts and, eventually, to prison." The award-winning author spent months interviewing killers, drug pushers, prostitutes, and other criminals serving time in prison before he set pen to paper for Monster. These interviews revealed a common thread: "...that no one went from being completely innocent to living in jail in one dramatic step. There always seemed to be interim stages. Decisions to bend, not break, the law. Minor infractions...would lead to petty thefts. Petty thefts and fare-beating might lead to street-corner drug sales. Each experience...would give permission for the next experience. Eventually a line would be crossed..."
And that's where we find Steve Harmon: 16 years old and on trial for murder. His parents' hearts break as they watch the drama unfold from their seats in the back of the courtroom. Did Steve serve as the lookout when Bobo Evans and James King robbed the drugstore and then killed the store's owner in the commotion? Or was he just in the wrong place at the wrong time? Is he being framed by a couple of losers he used to call friends? In the tension-filled courtroom, reality begins to blur for Steve. How on earth did he get here? Is he a monster?
Walter Dean Myers's new novel will shock, disturb, awaken, and inspire.
—Cathy Young Cathy Young is the founder of www.read-this.com, which specializes in creating web sites for authors, illustrators, and publishers.