Allison's Book Bag

Monster by Walter Dean Myers

Posted on: February 13, 2013

Have you ever read a script novel? This week I read my second. It’s called Monster, was written by Walter Dean Myers, and has garnered many awards. According to the School Library Journal, script novels incorporate techniques of playwriting, screenwriting, or some kind of performance art such as poetry or monologue. Since starting Allison’s Book Blog, I have tried these alternate formats: graphic novels, script novels, and verse novels. Of these, the script novel is my favorite, perhaps because they feel closest to traditional fiction.

Monster is about sixteen-year-old Steve Harmon, who has been accused of serving as the lookout for a robbery of a convenience store which resulted in the death of the store owner. The rationale for the script format is that Steve feels as if he has walked into the middle of a movie, a strange one, not like the ones he had previously seen of prisons. His movie is black and white and grainy; sometimes the images are so blurred that one has to listen to the sounds instead to know what’s happening in a scene. Prior to his arrest, Steve had been working on a film. By recreating his life in the format of a film, he musters up the ability to survive the nightmare of prison, even though he is alone and scared.

As with each other alternate format that I have tried, I checked out the research to find out how literary experts view script novels. According to the School Library Journal, script novels first appeared around 2005. Some examples include traditional novels, wherein the main characters were involved in school plays and scenes from those plays were incorporated into the narrative. On the other side of the spectrum were novels which were written foremost for the stage, one of them even being written in the format of Reader’s Theater scripts. The rest of the examples fall in the middle, one of them being Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park. It included scripted conversations between the author and her protagonist throughout the standard narrative. At the time of reading it, I had no idea that the format was anything exceptional; hence, my claim that the script novel feels closest to traditional fiction.

Why the script format? According to the School Library Journal, this genre is memorable for its use of writing that closely approximates natural speech and therefore lends a sense of immediacy to the narrative. This definitely holds true for Monster, whose script format made me feel as if I were listening to a televised trial. The drawback however is similar to one which I had about Myers’ verse novel Street Love: Sometimes I felt lost as to who the speakers were. Especially when the various lawyers took their turns speaking, I often didn’t know whose side they represented. In Monster, I also see another benefit of the script format, which is the emotional impact it can create. By describing the courtroom in the formal and objective tone of a play, Myers effectively created a strong contrast between it and the personal thoughts of Steve. This juxtaposition of neutrality and confusion ripped at my heart for Steve’s plight, in a way that might not have been possible with prose fiction.

What is your experience with script novels? Do you have favorites? Or have you yet to explore the format? The School Library Journal suggests script novels might evolve into their own legitimate format. If Monster by Walter Dean Myers is one of the better examples, I look forward to how script novels will change the literary world.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

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