by Walter Dean Myers
Description via Goodreads
The best time to cry is at night, when the lights are out and someone is being beaten up and screaming for help (1)
Monster is about the fate of a young man named Steve Harmon. There is a good chance Harmon will get 25 years to life in prison, if found guilty of felony murder. In Monster, the emotional turmoil Harmon experiences in prison and during his trial is documented into a screenplay. He does this to help him process the extreme turn his life has taken. In between scenes, Harmon has diary entries that speak more to the cruel circumstance of prison life.
Miss O'Brien says that Petrocelli is using Bolden's testimony as part of a trail that will lead to me and James King. I think she is wrong. I think they are bringing out all of these people and letting them look terrible on the stand and sound terrible and then reminding the jury that they don't look any different from me and King (59)
The author focuses on what it means to be guilty, or rather, what it means to not be innocent. He includes little details about Harmon's life, upbringing and neighborhood to suggest how men like Harmon are predisposed to guilt. This same guilt consumes almost every person in prison (innocent or not). Guilt manifests and infiltrates everyone. It's not a jacket you take off whenever you please; it's the pain in your gut, the bag over your head, tattooed on your forehead, multiplying in the melanin of your skin.
I hear myself thinking like all the other prisoners here, trying to convince myself that everything will be alright, that the jury can't find me guilty because of this reason. We lie to ourselves here. Maybe we are here because we lie to ourselves (202)
At first I was unsure of how the structure of a screenplay would affect the reading experience. Would it distract me? Can I visualize these scenes correctly? Would I understand what Harmon is trying to emphasize? Yes, some phrasing is a little awkward, but the dialogue is clear. In the end I decided what mattered more was the idea of the screenplay; the fact that the reality of Harmon's situation--the gravity of it--the bleakness of his future is so unbelievable that only a movie could capture the sensation.
Another thing I noted when reading was the overall indifference I felt to all the characters...I'm not sure if this is a good or bad thing. I didn't hate the prosecutor, I didn't empathize with Harmon, all the witness accounts and cross examinations seemed solid, the prisoner advice was casually reflective. I didn't spend any brainpower on forming my own judgement on whether Harmon was not guilty--I was just indifferent. I'm sure this due to the form of the narrative, as the reader is just there to observe. I feel weird suggesting that there's no reader engagement because I did find the novel interesting enough...
I wish Jerry were here. Not in jail, but somehow with me. What would I say to him? Think about all the tomorrows of your life. Yes, that's what I would say. Thank about all the tomorrows of your life (205)