Publication Date: April 21, 1999
Steve Harmon is sixteen when he’s placed on trial for murder. A drugstore owner was shot during a robbery – one that Steve was allegedly a lookout for.
Regardless of his guilt, Steve becomes a part of the system. His only way to cope with it is by writing, both in his journal and by transforming his experience into a screenplay script.
But fiction is different from reality, and no one knows how Steven’s story will end.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Date Read: September 27, 2018
This was another book that I read for my YA Lit class this semester. It was our first book branching off To Kill A Mockingbird and our first exploration into books that were written in unconventional manners.
I really liked that this book was split up between script and journal entries. That’s all we get to tell us what’s happening as the trial goes on, and they’re both from Steve’s point of view. Sure, it makes it more biased because he can choose what to include and exclude, but it also made the storyline more interesting because we had that ambiguity and unreliability.
The plot was really simple, it’s not really a complicated case no matter how you look at it. What makes things complicated is the racial tension in the book, and not knowing who to trust. We want to trust Steve’s POV, but we also don’t know if he’s telling us the full truth through his journal entires and the script we’re reading. We want to trust his lawyer because she’s supposed to be fighting for someone who is innocent. We want to trust the witnesses they call to defend Steve. We want to trust that the justice system will be fair to everyone involved. But that’s not really how anything works, is it?
For the majority of the book, we’re immersed in the trial and learning what happened, who was involved, and what the claims are. We’re told why Steve is involved in the case and from there, we have to decide who we believe. It was a little frustrating that Steve never explicitly gave us a reason to believe in his innocence. I understand that it was one of the points of the book, but it did make it hard for me to want to root for him.
A problem I have with books or characters like this is that I’m a suspicious person by nature, and not having a claim against something as heavy as murder makes me wonder how much truth the characters are telling. It’s also the crime-buff in me that has a hard time taking someone’s word when there’s no proof.
The end of the book should have felt satisfying. I had mixed feelings about it because I wanted more clarity. That’s not really the intent of the book, so I understand why I didn’t really get it, but I wanted more. The details of the case were never fully wrapped up, in my opinion, and left me feeling like something big was missing.
I liked Steve enough as a character. I related to his desire to write all the time. It’s what I do when I need to process through difficult things. I wish I knew more about his character and what he was really like before the trial. It felt like I didn’t really get a chance to know him.
His lawyer, on the other hand, I had mixed feelings about O’Brian. I never really knew what to think of her or how to feel about her, and having finished the book, I still don’t know what to think or feel.
4 stars. It definitely packs a punch and talks a lot about how we view colored people in the justice system, but I do think that it could have a little more character substance to it.