C.E. G's Reviews > Monster

Monster by Walter Dean Myers
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's review
Aug 19, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: ya-ya-ya, street-lit, multicultural
Read in August, 2011

A re-read: I picked this one off the bookshelf of the people I'm cat-sitting for this week. I remember having a strong reaction to it when I was 13, and I wanted to see how my reading of the book would change with 10 years distance.

What (I think) 13 y/o Christina Thought

I picked this up because the library had put it on display and something about the title/cover appealed to me. What really struck me at the time was not the unique structure (screenplay/journal), nor the courtroom drama, but the emotional experiences of main character. His fear of prison and the sting of the racism from his white defense attorney were so palpable to me at that age. In some ways, I think this book planted seeds for later questions I would have about the dominant understandings of racism and incarceration in America (these questions were later brought out by my high school reading of Ernest Gaine's A Lesson Before Dying and college reading of Angela Davis's Are Prisons Obsolete?). This book certainly didn't radicalize me back then, but laid an important groundwork of empathy.

I've noticed this book is often listed as recommended material for urban youth, male readers, readers of color, and "at risk" youth. At 13, I fell into none of those categories. But if my suburban library had not chosen to collect this book, I would not have had this chance to privately explore my own reactions to this particular aspect of black/white race relations in the US.

Today, as a librarian-in-training, I often draw on this experience when I am articulating my annoyance with the way we librarians often protect books against censorship challenges. We so often defend queer fiction or violent books on the basis of "a kid who is queer/has experienced violence might need this book!". While I think that is TRUE, it overlooks the importance of the books to the rest of the population - the so-called "innocent" and "mainstream" kids need to learn how to empathize with their peers, and fiction can be a great gateway for that. White readers need to read about characters of color, straight kids need queer fiction, and suburban kids need stories about the urban working class.

So, stepping down from my soapbox, I'll conclude that it was a very powerful book for the baby teen that I was.

What 23 y/o Christina Thought

I had trouble putting it down, and I thought the screenplay format worked quite well. I appreciated how issues of race, youth, and justice were addressed without being obviously didactic. As an adult, though, I was less taken in by mystery about whether or not he was innocent. Overall, a solidly good book. Not as powerful as the first time around, but maybe that's to be expected, considering that it is YA fiction (which is presumably written for people younger than myself?).

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