Tag Archives: Poverty

Combo: Review of Myers’ “Monster” and Alexie’s “The Absolutely True Diary (…)”

I’m doing a combo review today, partly because I’m tearing through these books like a bag of Peanut Butter M&Ms, and partly because I don’t have too terribly much to say about a few of these books. But first, the obligatory synopsis courtesy of Goodreads:

This New York Times bestselling novel and National Book Award nominee from acclaimed author Walter Dean Myers tells the story of Steve Harmon, a teenage boy in juvenile detention and on trial. Presented as a screenplay of Steve’s own imagination, and peppered with journal entries, the book shows how one single decision can change our whole lives.

Fade In: Interior: Early Morning In Cell Block D, Manhattan Detention Center.

Steve (Voice-Over)
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 prosecutor called me … Monster.

Monster was one of those books that I’m convinced could truly help readers of the right audience, but the fit would have to be juuuust right. The story is told as a screenplay as the main character, Steven, goes through his trial.

The good news is that the story includes journal entries here and there, which give chilling depictions of Steven’s time in juvie and these journals could easily speak to readers who are facing similar circumstances or choices. The bad news is that the story also includes transcripts of courtroom proceedings and, thus, a lot of legalese. The jargon regularly overwhelmed the story and, although it offered readers a glimpse of a life spent fighting for freedom, the transcript style was far less convincing and relatable than the journals. I was filled with sadness for Steven while simultaneously being utterly unsure about what happened in that convenience store. I think this was on purpose, since Myers wanted readers to decide whether Steven was guilty based on evidence, just like a juror. I just finished with the stong hope that none of my students ever endure circumstances like those, which was a powerful and meaningful take-away.

On the one hand, I think this would be a valuable read for students who may be struggling with friend groups or decisions about life paths, but on the other hand I think the legal emphasis could easily overwhelm and discourage that same student. Regardless, I was not the intended audience and that was painfully obvious throughout my reading, but it didn’t prevent me from seeing value for other readers.

Another recent completion was Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Synopsis:

Born poor and hydrocephalic, Arnold Spirit survives brain surgery. But his enormous skull, lopsided eyes, profound stuttering, and frequent seizures target him for abuse on his Indian reservation. Protected by a formidable friend, the book-loving artist survives childhood. And then – convinced his future lies off the rez – the bright 14-year-old enrolls in an all-white high school 22 miles away.

That synopsis manages to symplify a book that is anything but simple. I completed this one via Audiobook and, I’ll just be honest, while I appreciated that the author narrated it himself, his voice was distracting. It was some sort of stoner/dracula/Bob Dylan combo, that served no purpose but to distract me with every passing word.

Aside from that, the story was so unbelievably depressing at times and hopeful at others that I was just exhausted. This kid, Arnold, has to take the cake for the most pity-enducing story, what with his physical deformaties, mental handicaps, extreme poverty, alcoholic parents, bullying neighbors, racist classmates, friend turned ex-friend, murdered pet, and the fact that loved ones keep dropping like flies. I can understand an author seiezing one or even a few of these tropes and writing about them, but all of them?! Are you trying to make me die of sadness overload?

Don’t get me wrong, the book had beautiful, profound, stunningly hopeful moments that really gave hope to readers, but make no mistake it beat you into the ground before it even thought about picking you up and giving you a reason to smile. I have a number of friends who love this book, so I’m going to go ahead and assume that this is one of those books that was ruined by the narration, and I’ll certainly have it in my classroom for students who might be enduring any of the countless hardships Arnold Spirit navigates with relentless humor and positivity. It is just as uplifting as it is devastating; such is life.

I have a lot more reviews to complete, but I also have a few more books for my summer classes and those take prescedence, so I hope you all will be patient with me. More to come soon, but feel free to follow me on Goodreads for quicker updates. Happy summer readings!!

 

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