Author: Walter Dean Myers
Release Date: December 14, 2004
Summary: Sometimes I feel like I have walked into the middle of a movie. Maybe I can make my own movie. The film will be the story of my life. No, not my life, but of this experience. I'll call it what the lady who is the prosecutor called me. Monster.
Fade In: Interior Court. A guard sits at a desk behind Steve. Kathy O'Brien, Steve's lawyer, is all business as she talks to Steve.
Let me make sure you understand what's going on. Both you and this king character are on trial for felony murder. Felony Murder is as serious as it gets. . . . When you're in court, you sit there and pay attetion. You let the jury know that you think the case is a serious as they do. . . .
You think we're going to win ?
It probably depends on what you mean by "win."
Sixteen-year-old Steve Harmon is on trial for murder. A Harlem drugstore owner was shot and killed in his store, and the word is that Steve served as the lookout.
Guilty or innocent, Steve becomes a pawn in the hands of "the system," cluttered with cynical authority figures and unscrupulous inmates, who will turn in anyone to shorten their own sentences. For the first time, Steve is forced to think about who he is as he faces prison, where he may spend all the tomorrows of his life.
As a way of coping with the horrific events that entangle him, Steve, an amateur filmmaker, decides to transcribe his trial into a script, just like in the movies. He writes it all down, scene by scene, the story of how his whole life was turned around in an instant. But despite his efforts, reality is blurred and his vision obscured until he can no longer tell who he is or what is the truth. This compelling novel is Walter Dean Myers's writing at its best.
Let me start with an explanation as to why I read this book recently. It came out 14 years ago, but it's a book that has remained painfully relevant. Relevant enough to be on the curriculum for 8th grade ELA in my district. It's not without controversy though, and that is what brought the book to my desk. When a parent asked why we read it in 8th grade, when they asked specifically what the redeeming value of the book was, I had to admit that I had never actually read the book. I don't often read the ELA books, I have so many other books to read, review and recommend that I've always felt like if it was on the ELA curriculum, they had it covered. Still, I figured if a parent wanted to discuss the book I would give it a read. So off my library shelf it came and I blew through it in a few hours.
To start I'd have to say that this book is not for me. Stylistically I struggled to get into the story, to follow the characters, to be invested in the lives of the player. However, this was a function of HOW it was written more then the actual story. Steve, the main character is in prison on trail for a botched robbery that ended in a murder. In order to cope Steve imagines his life as a movie. Camera shots are highlighted, there are stage directions for where sounds are coming from, and parts of the story are told in flashback. For me, this was hard to get into. Still... the concept of his life being told as a movie is primed for discussion. For me this is where the bulk of a discussion would come into play, this is where we find our redeeming value. Steve's like is being dictated by others, he was following someone else's lead when the robbery took place, he is under the thumb of the prison guards, he has to listen to the directions from his attorney if he wants to get out. Even though he made the choices that led him here, his life is no longer his own, and it's certainly not what he hoped it would be. My question would be "why does he feel the need to imagine his story like a movie?" my hope would be that we would discuss how you can find a modicum of control amid the chaos, how taking back a piece of your own life can allow you to start to feel hope for a better future and how looking at a situation as an outsider (like the director of a movie) can sometimes allow you to gain perspective on a situation.
This wasn't one of my favorite books. It's not one I would read over and over again, but it's value comes from showing a different way to deal with the fallout from horrible decisions. It shows a slice of life that you may not be familiar with, and one that you would hope not to become familiar with. Overall the message here is one of taking life's turns and using the things you are passionate about (like film making for Steve) to help you get through the difficult times and never give up hope for a better future.