Monster is my first Walter Dean Myers. I read a lot of YA, but I trend more towards the SFF, and the occasional contemporary romance. I felt a little unsettled reading this book — when you read a romance, you know that in the end, the girl is going to end up with a guy, but the entire way through this novel, I wasn’t sure where it was going. Now that I’m done, I can look back and tell that part of that uneasiness was due to the very unreliable narrator, Steve. Was he or wasn’t he guilty? That was the question left for the reader to decide, regardless of how the jury voted and the final verdict.
The book was also unsettling because of the setting and subject matter, and even the format — Steve’s story is told primarily in the form of a screenplay, so it moves quickly, but you have to pay attention. There are very few spare words in this book. To some, this is probably a criticism — there is not a lot of character development, but it worked for me. It was easy for me to fill in the details of the lawyers and others.
One of the things I usually do after I read a book is go read other people’s reviews. As with any book, this has it’s supporters and it’s detractors. One of the criticisms I saw was that they didn’t like Steve very much. I find this interesting as a criticism, because I agree, I didn’t think he was very likeable — but I cared about him. I cared to find out what happened to him. Liking and caring aren’t really the same thing, and I’m not sure I’ve really read very many books before that made me realize that so completely.
Another interesting article I found was by a teacher titled Against Walter Dean Myers and the dumbing down of literature: ‘Those kids’ can read Homer. Alexander Nazaryan’s argument seems to boil down to the idea that instead of letting his students read Myers, he should be been making them read “classics” instead — Virgil, Homer, and more. I’m probably oversimplifying, but I’m not sure I see his point. Why does it have to be an either/or choice? Why can’t kids (or anyone, really) do both? If an amazing teacher can get them to read Homer and love it, then I’m all for that, but how many people have had reading ruined for them in school?
The number of books that people read in a year is horrifying low (even with people like me reading upwards of 100 books a year…), and I think I have to come down on the side of “if this is all the read, then that’s all right with me.”
This probably won’t be my last Walter Dean Myers, but I have a fairly long list of other books to read first…
I think I’m going to wrap up this post with a video of Myers from 2012.