Book:Walter Dean Myers, Monster. New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers, 1999
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Audience: Age 13 and up
Read Aloud: Click here!!
Summary: This novel is about 16 year old Steven Harmon, who is from Harlem, New York. The novel begins in media res with Steve writing from prison in a notebook, because he has been accused of Felony murder for being involved in a robbery-gone-bad in which the owner of a local drugstore is killed. Steve writes the entire transcript of the court proceedings as a movie script, interspersed with his own journaling. The novel goes through the entire trial and ends on a flash-forward to Steve at home five months later.
Themes: One of the main themes of the novel is fear. This theme encompasses a lot of different things in the book; fear of death, fear of imprisonment, and fear of the loss of identity. Steve makes reference to his fear frequently throughout the book (as seen is two of the passages from my read aloud) and even begins the novel telling the audience when the best time to cry is. The prosecutor asks him when he is on the stand if he’s nervous and his defense attorney references that moment in her closing argument.
Another of the main themes of the novel is identity. Steve constantly questions “what did I do?” and can’t understand why people look at him so negatively. He frequently flashes back to moments prior to the trial to establish his identity then in order to contrast his identity crisis throughout the trial. Even the title of the novel, “Monster”, is a reference to his identity confusion. Is he a monster? He’s not sure anymore.
Connections: This book is very different from other books I’ve read for a few reasons. Firstly, almost the entire novel is written like a screenplay, which is unique and unusual. Secondly, it is written by a black author and is about a black teenager where most young adult fiction is written by white authors, which is an enjoyable change of pace. Finally, the book is from the perspective of a man in prison, which is also very different from the norm and intriguing. I would recommend it to anyone because it appeals to a wide audience.
Reactions: I loved this book. I started reading it and the next thing I knew I had finished the book because it goes by so quickly. I got so involved in the story that I found myself rooting for Steve toward the end as the trial came to a close. I thought that it was written very well and that it was understandable and intriguing from start to finish.
Reactions: Tammy Currier, a reviewer for teenreads.com says,
“Filled with ambiguity, this fast-paced nail-biter will have you at the edge of your seat unable to put it down. Perfect for teens and adults alike, MONSTER raises interesting questions about the path to crime and our judicial and prison systems.”
Monica Wyatt, a reviewer for Common Sense Media says,
“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.”