Monster by Walter Dean Myers

“Miss O’Brien looked at me-I didn’t see her looking at me but I knew she was.  She wanted to know who I was.  Who was Steve Harmon?  I wanted to open my shirt and tell her to look into my heart to see who I really was, who the real Steve Harmon was.

That was what I was thinking, about what was in my heart and what that made me.  I’m just not a bad person.  I know that in my heart I am not a bad person.”

Hi from library school in Montreal, friends! Look what I have for you: a fast read, an incredible story, written by an author you should definitely get to know, if you don’t already. You are going to go crazy about this one!

Steve Harmon got mixed up in some bad business.  Felony business.  He’s a 16-year-old who grew up in Harlem, and he agreed to be the lookout for a friend who was planning to rob a drugstore.  The robbery went south, the owner was shot and killed, and Steve finds himself looking at 25 years to life in prison if he is convicted.   The story follows his trial, from his own perspective.  He talks about prison, and his deepest fear: everyone looks at his brown face and hears about the crime, and thinks he is a monster.  Deep inside, he’s afraid that everyone might be right.

See all those shiny medals on the cover?  Those are the biggies: Printz, National Book Award Finalist,  and Coretta Scott King award.  Plus, Walter Dean Myers has been awarded the Margaret Edwards Award, the one given to honor lifetime achievement.  That’s only handed out to one author, once a year.  Big stuff, guys!  Of course, there are amazing books and authors that go unrewarded out there, too, but the awards are a great guide if you’re not sure what you want to read.

So, awards aside, the beauty of this book is its gritty story, simpler language, and unconventional format (a pastiche of journal entries and film script).  The format makes it especially appealing to ELLs, or older students who may need a really good hook and a fast-paced read, as well as anyone not looking for a straight-up, novel-style read. ( However, while it may be a quick read, Myers definitely does not sacrifice emotional impact or plot.) I finished it over the course of a week, but that was because I was interrupted by an international move, and after the furniture-assembling, apartment-cleaning, grocery-st0re-finding-missions, and hours-long Skype phone calls, all I could do was read for a few minutes and fall asleep with my cheek smashed into the pages.  Thanks for being patient-I really did want to get this finished and share it with you!

Happy Reading!

Author’s website :http://www.walterdeanmyers.net

Myers, Walter Dean. Monster. New York: HarperCollins, 1999. 281 pp (but it reads quickly!). Ages 13 and up.

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After by Amy Efaw

‘”Sit up straight, ok?  Look the judge right in the eyes when he speaks to you.  You’re going to be nervous, don’t think that you’re not.'”

Devon is just a few months shy of her sixteenth birthday.  She’s an honor student, a soccer star, and has always sworn that she would grow up and be nothing like her mother.

Then it all falls apart.

She didn’t even know she was pregnant.  All of a sudden, it seemed to her, she was lying in the bathroom, with blood everywhere and more pain than she had ever felt before.  And IT was there, a screaming, crying, living representation of her failure.  Who wouldn’t panic?

When a neighbor finds the baby in a trash can, Devon’s perfect world is shattered.  Her advanced classes are replaced with with institutional meals in juvenile detention, state soccer matches with court dates.  Meetings with lawyers, psychiatrists, and other authorities fill her spare time.  Devon transforms, too: from a young woman shrouded in fear and denial, to a person capable of facing her actions.

Efaw uses lots of details; her close observations permeate the book and make the reader feel intimately involved in the story.  The story, because it is told from Devon’s perspective (not in first person, but it’s an omniscient narrator) begins in a very vague, confused way.  It’s a direct reflection of Devon’s state of mind:  she has suffered a severe blood loss, and is in shock.  As the story progresses, she takes more and more responsibility for what happened.  As she does so, the descriptions and details become clearer and clearer.  It’s a great technique and it elevates this novel from what could be a sensational story about a pregnant teen, into something more literary.  I finished this book in a day; I just didn’t want to put it down.

Happy Reading!

Efaw, Amy. After. Viking: New York, 2009. 350 pp.  Grades 9-12.

Author’s website: http://www.amyefaw.com/

Yummy by G. Neri

“I tried to figure out who the real Yummy was.  The one who stole my lunch money? Or the one who smiled when I shared my candy with him?  I wondered if I grew up like him, would I have turned out the same?”

Yummy is based on a true story, which makes it even more tragic.  Yummy, an eleven year old boy in a rough Chicago neighborhood,starts running with a gang.  While trying to impress older gang members and develop a reputation, he accidentally shoots and kills a fourteen-year-old girl.  This graphic novel, told from the perspective of an acquaintance of Yummy’s, examines the “why?” of the events.  Stark black and white illustrations give the novel a gritty feel.  I thought it was incredible! It won the Coretta Scott King Honor Award-richly deserved.

Author’s website:

http://www.gregneri.com/

Illustrator’s website:

http://www.randyduburke.com/

Neri, G. Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty. New York: Lee and Low Books, 2010. 94 pp.

Happy Reading!