i picked this book up not really knowing what to expect and it was definitely a surprise. it started off a little disjointed, got a little better in the middle and got to be a page-turner at the end, so i’m glad i picked it up. the opening line gives a great idea of what kind of power this book holds.
"The best time to cry is at night, when the lights are out and someone is being beaten up and screaming for help."
the story is told from the perspective of 16 year old Steve Harmon, on trial for felony murder for allegedly acting as a lookout in a robbery where the store owner was shot and killed. through his obvious fear of the situation, we become his audience, his jury, and are left to determine his guilt.
as an aspiring film maker, Steve tells his story in a screenplay fashion, complete with scene fades, camera close ups and voice overs. the style took some time to get used to, but it did work, for the most part. between the script, we are given some more personal insight into his life through journal entries detailing his thoughts regarding the trial.
"The movie is more real in so many ways than the life I am leading. No, that’s not true. I just desperately wish this was only a movie."
the bulk of the story is spent in the courtroom, as we follow the proceedings, but it is written in a clear and simple way that isn’t overly complicated. the few moments that are reflections of his time in jail are powerful statements of what it means to be incarcerated, without being too graphic.
"They take away your shoelaces and your belt so you can’t kill yourself no matter how bad it is. I guess making you live is part of the punishment."
although there are a lot of side characters in the guards, lawyers, and witnesses, it’s clear throughout that the focus is entirely on Steve. he comes across as a quiet kind of kid, just trying to make it through life in Harlem, passionate about his film-making and uncertain about his own future. we watch as he questions his own moral fiber, unsure if he is fact the Monster that the prosecution claims him to be.
although it had a rough start, i did enjoy this book and would recommend it to anyone interested in what it would mean to be a juvenile on trial. my only complaint is that there could have been more substance, more depth in Steve’s journal entry moments. i think this could have given us more of a connection to the character, although that may have been against the author’s intentions. i can see how this was written with the intention that the reader is there, as an impartial juror would be, left to our own decisions based on the information presented.
regardless, this would make for excellent reading in a classroom setting and is an excellent attempt to tackle race issues and violence in our society.
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