Book: Walter Dean Myers. Monster. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999.
Genre: Young Adult Fiction, Criminal Fiction
Audience: Grades 7 to 12 (and up)
Summary: Steve Harmon is a 16 year from Harlem, New York. He gets accused of being a part of a drugstore robbery that goes band and ends up with the drugstore owner getting shot. Another big part of the story is the fact that Steve is black and is spending his young days in prison with a chance of never being able to grow up. His sentence could land him the death penalty or if lucky 25-life. Steve tells the story in a journal which he wants to turn into a film. In the journals he describes his days in court and how he experiences lock up. Steve is found in the end as not guilty and leaves you hanging with a new question, why was his lawyer so set on proving him guilty if he wasn’t?
Themes: Some themes in the book that I could discuss in class could be the theme of race. Steve was a black teenager who was put in prison for participating in a crime. Society’s statistic is that only black people participate in crime and gun violence so of coarse he is guilty. This could make a great discussion in class about never judging a person based on appearence because that is exactly what his lawyer did. She was set to prove him guilty, even though she was defending him and yet he was proven innocent at the end.
Another theme you could address in the classroom is violence. How one act can affect your whole future. Steve was just 16 years old and just like that his life was changed forever. This further proves that participating in violent acts is not the answer to a happy, successful life. It also teaches you to prove your friends wisely, because even though Steve was proven innocent he hung out with the wrong crowd and found himself in prison for a chance of being locked away for his whole life for something he didn’t do.
Connections: You could relate this book to Holes. Even though Holes was more humorous and less of a lock up story. The main character in the story still was being punished for a crime he didn’t commit much like Steven. They were both just in the wrong place at the wrong time. From it all however, they found things about themselves and started to find who they were as people and were able to learn from their mistakes.
Reactions: I enjoyed this story. I thought it was clever how it was in journal form and yet different from most with the fact that it had a movie script aspect to it. I thought it was a heartfelt story that could really help our young adults the life lessons and the fact that you do have consequences for everything you do so be careful.
Reception: Crying at night,January 3, 2004
My parents courted by playing the “first line” game. One person says the first line of a favorite book of theirs and the other person guesses the piece of literature quoted. “Monster”‘s first line is a doozy, and I doubt anyone, once hearing it, could do anything but guess its title correctly.
“The best time to cry is at night, when the lights are out and someone is screaming for help”.
So writes Steve Harmon, the sixteen year-old accused felon and hero of this story. Myers adeptly creates a new form of fiction in this Printz winner of a book. Finding jail too painful to endure, Steve recounts his life and court appearances by styling his journal in the form of a movie. The title of this movie “Monster” refers to a statement made by the leading prosecutor about Steve, the defendant. Falsely accused of aiding and abetting a robbery and consequent murder of a local drugstore and its manager, Steve recounts his current status, his past hopes and dreams, and the pain he must endure day to day. Kids reading this book might have some difficulty grasping exactly how this book’s protagonist is connected to the murder. Certainly there isn’t a detailed description of the extent to which Steve was connected to the killers in the neighborhood. But Myers gives his readers a lot of credit, believing they’ll figure out what’s going on, on their own. Steve’s experiences in jail are a pared down version of the t.v. show “Oz”. There are several references to sexual assault, in addition to violence and some mild language. I wouldn’t be handing this book to your five-year-old but for any kid that’s curious about jail or being “tough”, this book can do you no wrong.
Scary, realistic, and compelling,December 11, 1999
This novel really makes one think about society’s view of young black men, and about young black male’s preception of themselves. Why do good kids get into trouble? And why did Steve Harmon? What happens to good kids when they do get put into jail and they have to be with harden criminals-who do they become? MONSTER, brings these questions to light and there are no answers. But as a young hispanic female, recommending this book to a young african-american male is hard. One teen looked at me and looked at the cover and asked me if i thought he was a monster. Of course I do not. But I wish more than anything this young man would have picked up this book because I think that it would have helped him at looking at himself with the question Steve Harmon asks himself WHO AM I?.
I truly believe anyone who picks up this book will also ask themselves the same question WHO AM I? I know I did.