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Provocative book about teen on trial for murder.
Popular with kidsParents recommend

What parents need to know

Educational value

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.

Positive messages

Readers 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."

Positive role models

Teen readers will feel Steve's terror and confusion, struggle with if he is guilty or not, and hope that he is found not guilty.


Although the book describes nothing directly, violence pervades the story. People are beaten up, and a man is shot. The main character is terrified that he'll be sent to prison. Rape of prison inmates is implied.


A 14-year-old boy testifies that he's gotten a girl pregnant.


For all the book's realism, the profanity is infrequent and mild to moderate. 

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

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."

Families can talk 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?

Book details

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
Number of pages:281
Publisher's recommended age(s):12
Award:Coretta Scott King Medal and Honors

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Teen, 13 years old Written byHarryPotterandW... July 9, 2011

Great book; Easy to handle

I had to read this book for school, and I have to say it was good! It's formatted differently than most books which will appeal to non-readers. It was also a pretty easy read, but mature at the same time. The inference to sex and rape was mildly brief and if you are a young teen or older, there's no reason you can't handle it. Steve is a good role model, staying strong through the trial and never giving up on believing he's not guilty. A book everyone should read!
What other families should know
Great role models
Too much sex
Adult Written byJesse419 July 6, 2010

Eye opener

Good Book. Took me an hour or so to read it. This was my first time reading a Walter Meyers book. I think it is appropriate for 8th or 9h graders. It can open there eyes a little. As for the sexuality, violence and language I think it sets the tone of the book without going over board with it because lets face it teens to early adulthood say far worse. I think a lot of ppl in general have been faced with some kind of peer preasure or wanting to excepted in there life and from what i got from it that's what this book was about. A teen growing up in Harlem who wants to be excepted by the so called "tough guys" of the neighborhood, but at the same time wants and has a bright future a head of him and from one mistake brings his hopes and dreams to a stand still of the possibilty of spending a very long time in prison. It was clear that he was guilty and pretty much just got lucky. This book shows teenagers and young adults what could happen if you get caught up in the wrong crowd and give in to peer preasure. This is a extreme case of just that but this kind of thing happens everyday, not just with ppl in Harlem but ppl from any where. I think more teens and young adults need to have there eyes opened to such things. We all know what it is like to be in similar circumstances maybe just not so severe. My thoughts are that Steve did participate in the crime. Maybe he chickened out at the last moment maybe he didn't but he did participate and in result was involved in felony murder. King knew he would participate because he knew Steve looked up to him. Osvaldo participated because he wanted to make a name for himself. King Participated because he looked up to Bobo. Bobo did it, well because he wasn't right in the head. King might have not shot the clerk but this is what happens when you hangout with ppl like them and think they are loyal because 99% of the time they're not and will tell lies on you/ rat you out to save there on behinds. That is pretty much what they all did. Bobo, Osvaldo and King all did that to get lighter sentences. Steve just lied and said he was no where around these guys and barley knew them when it was aparant he did and hung out with them. He got lucky. Do I think he should have got 25 to life? No, but I do think he should have been punished. Robbery is a serious thing. I know none of them expected it to go down like that but that is the risk you take when you do something of this nature. What I hope young readers get out of this book is this, all these kids were bad. There was no hero of this story. These kids commited a horrible crime, lied, cheated in anyway not to go down for it. Those so called "Tough guys" that you might idolize, hangout with or want to be like might not be so tough when the heat is on and authorties of any stature start asking them questions and acussing/ bust them. Names will start spewing from there mouth and they won't have an ounce of regret. So stay clear from stuff like this. Check your priorities and take a look in the mirror. It just shows how quick incidents take to spiral out of control and you're on the other end fighting for your life.
What other families should know
Great messages
Adult Written bytheatreteach September 12, 2009
This story does deal with racism and a little bit of violence and sex, but it is very educational and interesting. Definitely a worth while read.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages


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