Book: Walter Dean Myers. Monster. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999.
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Young Adult Fiction
Audience: 7th to 10th grade
Read Aloud: My vid (ughh i tried to cut out the part where i was trying to find the page i’d marked but it didn’t work…)
Summary: Steve Harmon is a sixteen year old black boy living in a tough neighborhood in Harlem, New York. He was arrested and placed in jail after being accused of being a lookout for a holdup which resulted in the murder of an innocent man. He kept a Journal throughout the days of his trial that included dialogue from his trial and others he met in jail, the emotions he experienced, and flashbacks from his life before jail. Throughout his trial he writes about is innocent, he does not understand what he did wrong and insists he was in the wrong place at the wrong time. In the end the jury finds him guilty and he returns to a life with his family and continues exploring his love of filmmaking.
Race: The theme of race is easily recognized in this novel. The back of the book alone points out the race of the main character as a description of the book. It is very clear that throughout the trial most of the men and women that testify for the case is black and portrayed as ghetto. Though these kids are supposed to be tried as innocent until proven guilty it is very obvious that that is not the way they are seen, and part of it is because of the color of their skin and the areas they come from. I feel the author used this as a theme to show how kids from tough areas, especially one of color, are judged immediately and unfairly.
Age: At sixteen most are far too young to deal with life in prison. This issue is prominent throughout the book. Many of the other prisoners he speaks about and the men and women that testify during the trial are recognized by their age. His family is also something that the main character speaks about a lot; by doing so it shows his dependence on his family which is often a trait of younger characters. He speaks of trying to fit in in his neighborhood before he was arrested for being an accomplice for murder and between the ages of 14 and 18 many young men and women struggle with finding their place and who they are.
Connections: The biggest connection i can make about this book to others is the fact that its about a young boy trying to find his place in his neighborhood. Other then that i have not ready any books about young adults in jail. The writing style is completely different from anything i have ever read and many times i move more towards books that involve young women as a main character not young men.
Reaction: I was not particularly fond of this book at all. The writing style was interesting and i did enjoy how quick it made the book move. I feel as though the plot was not very exciting and it was lacking emotion and small details that often help you to see the characters and setting in you’re head. I feel because their was not a lot of emotion placed into the writing and it lacked detail I pictured a typical jail with typical characters that had no unique qualities or specific identity.
JosieKiper critiqued the young adult novel Monster commonsensemedia.org and did not fully believe it is appropriate for young adults. She enjoyed the book but is not sure that she would recommend it to children younger than 14.
“Good, but not fully appropriate for younger teens.
It was a decently good book, but some of the side topics may not be age appropriate if you are under 14 or 15. Being as how the maturity level of teenagers has risen through out the years, 13 may be acceptable too. The amount of swearing is very low, although some words are a little bit rude or harsh. I personally think the book was pretty good, and I would reccomend it to someone between the ages of fourteen and twenty.”
On the same site t.r.reader reviewed this book and did not see the concern for content in this young adult novel. They rated the novel as acceptable for ages 13 and up and thoroughly enjoyed reading it and stated its not only an enjoyable read but gets kids thinking.
“Such a shame to rate this as “iffy”
If there’s an infrequent use of “mild to moderate” language and implicit or passing references to sexual activity, I’m unsure why this book would be rated so highly for sex and language. Violence? Of course violence is part of “Monster;” the story is about a young teenager on trial for aiding in a robbery which results in murder. I rate this as appropriate for ages 13 and up not for any “controversial content,” but because Myer weaves such a complex story, following the protagonist, Steve, as he struggles to understand how he’s come to this point, his overwhelming trial, his dreams in life. Readers are left to figure out Steve’s guilt or innocence; Steve himself must grapple with who he is versus what others see him as. Though these questions are never explicitly asked, Myers’ story encourages readers to consider how we view young, urban black men; how these perceptions are internalized; justice; how a life (potentially) derails. “Monster” is a quick read that will draw in reluctant readers with its mixed journal and screenplay-style narrative, but be warned: it not only entertains (because let’s face it: it’s just a darn good story), it also gets kids and teens to think.”