Reviewed by James Parker
How can you change someone’s mind when they’ve already formed an opinion about you? For Steve Harmon in Walter Dean Myers’ Monster, it’s a matter life or death. Accused of robbery and murder, Steve tries to keep his cool while watching his trial play out like a blockbuster film. His journey takes a vivid look at how identity can be a fragile thing in a court of law.
Adapted from Myers’ novel, Anyabwile’s text and Sims’ illustrations breathe new life into this graphic novel adaptation. The black and white images capture Steve’s traumatic experiences in the justice system in theatrical detail. Readers see the accusations and assumptions hurled at Steve as jumbled collages of hate and clear full page depictions of fear and regret. Together, the story and images depict the tidal wave of emotion trapped behind Steve’s carefully stoic exterior in this Kafkaesque trail. While the images may be black and white, the story lives in the gray areas rooted in opposing perspectives.
The novel challenges readers to question their own assumptions about black men on trial. It draws on broad cultural stereotypes, acknowledging their existence while poking holes in their validity. Steven imagines the trail as a movie to help him stay calm. But the novel raises the question of who in this story is cast to play what roles? There are no easy answers and by the end even Steve is unsure of who honestly believes his truth. This graphic novel is a quick read that can lead to many long conversations.
by Walter Dean Myers, Adapted by Guy Sims, illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile
Harper Collins, 1999
James is a Graduate Student completing his Master’s of Education degree and a teacher of high school English at Park High School in Cottage Grove.