Book: Walter Dean Myers. Monster. New York: Harper Collins Publishers. 1999.
Genre: Realistic Young Adult Fiction.
Audience: 9th-12th grade.
Read-Aloud One is on page 3-4 of the novel. This quote demonstrates that the book structure parallels Steve’s life. This paragraph also shows feeling of surrealism.
Read-Aloud Two This clip is on page 63-64 and shows the prevalence of appearances in this novel. Steve couldn’t look weak. Through this paragraph, one can see how Steve feels like no one is listening to his side of the story and the jury and court are treating him like he doesn’t exist.
Summary: Steve Harmon, the narrator of the novel, is accused of being part of a robbery. Through the novel, Steve takes the reader through his trial, and mentions the difficulties of his life. These difficulties range from dealing with prison life, figuring out where and when Steve can show his feelings, and societal image both on the street, in prison, and stereotypes perceived in the news. The novel’s form is set up unlike most novels. The book is constructed like a movie script but also includes journal entries and pictures.
Themes: Peer pressure is one of the themes in Monster. Steve hung out with people who were considered a bad influence, and as a result, Steve desired to look tough. What it takes to fit in is questioned in this novel. The pressure to maintain an image of toughness in the environment Steve grew up in is presented to the reader. The book allowed the reader to question the role peer pressure played in Steve’s involvement with the robbery.
Appearance is another theme in the novel. The book talks about how Steve doesn’t know when he can cry. He can’t cry in prison, and he couldn’t cry before he went to trial. There is no place in his life for Steve to show his emotions. Physical attributes also apply to appearances. Race contributes to the severity of the after math of the robbery and the community seeking justice. If this event occurred and the accuser was a white teenager, the accuser would not have the same sentence as Steve did.
Connections: A few poems by Langston Hughes, such as The Weary Blues, Mother to Son, Let America Be America Again, or Dream Deferred, could be paired with this novel. One could discuss the Harlem Renaissance and then go into a unit about social justice where one could include these poems and the novel. A Lesson Before Dying, written by Ernest J. Gaines, could be paired with this novel based on social injustices in relation to the justice system, the way race is treated in relation to crimes, and survival. After teaching both novels, one could ask the class if times have changed. A Lesson Before Dying takes place in the early 1900’s while Monster is more current. One could also pair a play, such as Hamlet, with this novel and focus on the reliability of the character. In both texts, one must infer if Hamlet and Steve are reliable narrators. Since Monster is set up like a movie script, one could include a play script in the curriculum and compare/contrast the differences. Another novel that could be paired with Monster is Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Humanity is questioned in both texts, and both novels would be fun to teach around Halloween.
Reactions: I was not particularly fond of this novel. The movie script style format irritated me, but I did enjoy the font and how the novel seemed like a fast read. I also did not like that the reader is disengaged from the main character. Throughout the book, I did not care what was going to happen to Steve. It also frustrated me that the reader never found out if Steve was part of the crime or not. Even though this frustrated me, I think it worked best for the novel and the novel’s message.
Reception: On Common Sense Media, the site proclaims Monster is a novel that “employs highly realistic writing, with both poor and proper grammar used appropriately for each character”. Utilizing both types of writing draws in a diverse set of readers. It also shows readers there are books that incorporate modern language which, furthermore, encourages more people to read. The site goes on to mention the pictures establish a realistic atmosphere.
According to The Open Critic, the movie script was a bit confusing even though the reader liked the use of the movie script. He continues to say that the “journal entries provide a look back to around the time of the murder and also show’s what’s going on in Steve’s head”. The book allows the reader to see moments of Steve’s humanity through the journal entries but during the movie script sections, Steve is unemotional.