by Walter Dean Myers Amistad, 2001 Review by Su Terry Jul 29th 2004
Walter Dean Myers is an engrossing and thought provoking novel
about a young man on trial for murder. The novel is constructed in the form of
a film script detailing the progress of a trial with occasional flashbacks.
is set in Harlem and Manhattan.
Steve Harmon, the 16-year old African-American protagonist, is on trial for
felony murder. On December 22nd at about ,
Alguinaldo Nesbitt, a 55-year old man from St Kitt, is shot and killed during the robbery of his
drugstore in Harlem. The register was emptied and a
number of cartons of cigarettes were stolen. Harmon and James King, a 23-year
old man, were arrested and are now on trial. The novel describes Harmon's
experience during the twelve days of the trial both at the courthouse and in
the ManhattanDetentionCenter. Through Harmon's eyes
reader gets to meet the lawyers, court officers, the witnesses, and Harmon's
various cellmates. Suspense is kept right up to the very last page when the
verdict is finally read.
The novel is a murder trial from
the prisoner's point of view. Unlike court cases shown in the movies and on
television, this trial has no glitz…no glamour. There are no crusaders for
justice facing off hordes of evil to see justice done. There are no heroic
detectives turning over every last leaf to find the definitive shred of
evidence revealing the protagonist's innocence. The conditions of the cells are
portrayed as squalid and the prison environment is filled with assorted dangerous,
violent, and lust-filled predators. The witnesses are not always the most
stellar, up-standing citizens and included a drug dealer, a car thief, and a
number of prison "moles" in it to cut a deal for a reduced sentence.
Harmon's lawyer while upbeat, only half-heartedly believes he will get off. The
lawyers, in general, are portrayed as sharp game players out to win their case.
The judge, the jurors, and the court officers are portrayed as bored by the
proceedings or more interested in their own personal lives. Except for the
protagonist and his family, few of the characters are emotionally invested in
the trial. It is a sad, but I imagine a realistic picture of the legal process
where for all but the defendant, it is just another day on the job in the legal
Walter Dean Myers
is the author of more than 75 books for young people. Myers was born in West
Virginia but raised in Harlem.
His autobiography which was written for young people is entitled, Bad Boy: a Memoir (2002). He has
received many awards, including National Endowment of the Arts grant (1982
& 1989); the MacDowell Fellowship (1988);
American Library Association (ALA) Margaret A. Edwards Award for Lifetime
Achievement in Writing for Young Adults (1994), and ALAN Award (1994). Many of
his books have received awards including, Where Does the Day Go? (1968 Council on Interracial Books for Children
Award); The Dancers (1972 Child Study
Association of America's Children's Books of the Year); Fast Sam, Cool Clyde and Stuff (1975 ALA Notable Children's Books
List); Ain't All for Nothin'
(1978 ALA Notable Children's Books List, 1978 ALA Best Books For Young Adults
List); The Young Landlords (1980 Coretta Scott King Award, 1979 ALA Notable Children's Books
List, 1979 ALA Best Books For Young Adults List); Legend of Tarik (1982 Notable Children's
Trade Book in the Field of Social Studies from the National Council for Social
Studies and the Children's Book Council, 1981 ALA Notable Children's Books
List,1981 ALA Best Books For Young Adults List); Hoops (1994 Margaret A. Edwards Award, 1982 Edgar Allan Poe Award
runner-up, 1982 ALA Notable Children's Books List, 1982 ALA Best Books For
Young Adults List); Won't Know Til' I Get There (1982 Parents' Choice Foundation
Award); Tales of a Dead King (1983
New Jersey Institute Technology Authors Award); The Outside Shot (1984 Parents' Choice Foundation Award); Motown (1985 Coretta
Scott King Award); Didi (1985 Coretta Scott King Award); Adventure in Granada(1987 Child Study Association of
America's Children's Books of the Year); Fallen
Angels (1989 Coretta Scott King Award, 1988
Parents' Choice Foundation Award, 1988 ALA Best Books For Young Adults List); Me, Mop, and the Moondance
Kid (1988 ALA Notable Children's Books List);Scorpions
(1989 Newbery Honor Book, 1988 ALA Notable Children's
Books List, 1988 ALA Best Books For Young Adults List); Now Is Your Time (1992 Coretta Scott King
Award,1992 ALA Best Books For Young Adults List); Somewhere in the Darkness (1993 Newbery
Honor Book, 1993 Coretta Scott King Award,1993 ALA
Notable Children's Books List, 1993 ALA Best Books For Young Adults List,1992
Boston Globe/Horn Book Award,); Malcolm X
(1994 Coretta Scott King Award); Slam! 1997 Coretta Scott King Award; Harlem (1998 Caldecott Honor Book, 1998 Coretta Scott King Award, 1998 ALA Best Books For Young
Adults List); and Monster (1999
Michael L. Printz Award, 1999 Coretta
Scott King Author Honor Award, and 1998 National Book Award Finalist). Mr.
Myers lives in New Jersey with
his family. Shooter (2004)is his latest novel.
Monsterby Walter Dean Myers is
a well written novel. It is the winner of the Michael L. Printz
Award, the Coretta Scott King Author Honor Award, and
a finalist for the National Book Award Finalist. It is a stiff warning on the consequences
of getting involved in illegal activities. It should be mandatory reading for every
young person. The book is recommended for Grade 8 and up. I highly
recommend this book.
Su Terry: Education:
B.A. in History from Sacred Heart University, M.L.S. in Library Science from
Southern Connecticut State College, M.R.S. in Religious Studies/Pastoral
Counseling from Fairfield University, a M.Div. in
Professional Ministry from New Brunswick Theological Seminary, a Certificate in
Spirituality/Spiritual Direction from Sacred Heart University. She is a
Licensed Minister of the United Church of Christ and an Assistant Professor in
Library Science at DowlingCollege,
Long Island, NY.