Plot: 16-year-old Steve Harmon is on trial for murder. If he is convicted, he will spend the rest of his life in jail. To deal with the stress, the aspiring filmmaker writes out the trial and the events leading up to in the form of a screen play.
This book has been on my to read pile for the longest time. I admit, I had my doubts about the format: in my mind screen plays are made to be performed, filmed, not read (even voracious readers have ridiculous format prejudices). But when Walter Dean Myers sadly passed away a few weeks ago, I knew that I had to read this book as soon as possible.
It turns out that the format that initially intimidated me is perfect for the story Myers had to tell. It is a quick read, mostly dialogue, with bits of description and the occasional diary page. It’s great for reluctant readers and people used to the flow of film narrative. Because there is so little description, the characters really need to come through in the dialogue and here Myers succeeds perfectly. We get a real sense of Steve, his parents, the lawyers and the other young men in the tale.
But all that aside, this is an important tale to tell. Myers gives us a very frank look at young black men caught in the legal system, rightly or wrongly. It deals with masculinity, loss of innocence and the horrors of prison and it doesn’t pull any punches. Myers gives a voice, literally in letting Steve write his own story, to youths in very difficult situations, youths who are often judged before they even say a word.
In the end Myers gives no definitive answer about Steve’s guilt or innocence. In doing so, he makes the readers part of the jury and lets them decide if justice has been done. I found this so incredibly powerful and it gave me the urge to go back and sift through the evidence again.
Reading this novel I couldn’t help but think of all the different ways that it could be used in a class or book club setting: amateur films, mock trials, autobiographical screenplays… the possibilities are endless. But that’s “déformation professionelle” (is there a good English expression for that?). Read this book because it is thoughtful, troubling and enjoyable. Worry about projects later. ;)