A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this book is about a teen on trial for murder. While part of the story is told as a movie script, it employs highly realistic writing, with both poor and proper grammar used appropriately for each character. Grainy photographs contribute to the realistic atmosphere. There is some gritty material: characters are beaten up, the rape of inmates is implied, and Steve is terrified of being sent to prison. The high drama in this dialogue-driven story will appeal to even reluctant readers. And teens will appreciate debating whether Steve's guilty or not, and related issues, such as the fairness of our judicial system.
What's the story?
Steve's in jail, on trial for murder. He's young, he's terrified, and he's black. He's sure no one will believe him. Does Steve even believe in himself? You decide when you read this fast-moving book written like a movie script. The courtroom mystery hits home with enough drama and realism to attract even reluctant readers.
Is it any good?
The suspense and drama keep reluctant readers turning the pages, while more advanced readers will respond to the issues raised. Walter Dean Myers writes about human beings who make their own choices and react to their own circumstances -- even the minor characters have enough individuality to ring true -- and, as a result, teen readers care about them. They want Steve to be found not guilty, even as they try to figure out if Steve really is guilty. Steve's feelings about himself, his terror of jail, and his reaction to the epithet "monster," leave the reader guessing.
The format of this taut story regulates the pacing. Edge-of-the-seat courtroom scenes written entirely in dialogue wind the reader up, then thoughtful journal entries allow readers to catch their breaths. Readers can feel Steve's terror and confusion, and will ponder Myers' point about how the road from innocence to trouble is taken in small, almost invisible steps, each involving a "lack of positive moral decision."
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether 16-year-old Steve is guilty or not. What would you decide if you were a juror? Was he just at the wrong place at the wrong time?
This book has received a number of awards, including being named a National Book Award finalist and winning the Printz Award. Why do you think it resonated with awards committees? Does it deserve so much recognition and praise?
- Author: Walter Dean Myers
- Illustrator: Christopher Myers
- Genre: Coming of Age
- Topics: Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books
- Publication date: January 1, 1999
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12
- Number of pages: 281
- Award: Coretta Scott King Medal and Honors
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