Monster: Book Blog
Book: Walter Dean Myers. Monster. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1999. http://www.walterdeanmyers.net/
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Audience: High School
Steve Harman, a black, sixteen year old, male, from a rough neighborhood is being charged with murder. He accounts for his experiences through use of journaling and his own creative movie script describing each excruciating day. Steve has been accused of being involved in a robbery that resulted in the death of a store owner. He soon sees the battle will not be easily won. He must convince an all white jury and legal team that he is different than the others involved. Or is he?
The predominate theme in this novel is peer pressure. The ways in which young adults act often is based upon what their peers think of as cool or socially acceptable. In Steve Harmon’s neighborhood he has to get along with the gang members and the rough crowd to ensure that he is protecting himself and his family. The desire to be accepted mixed with the pressures to be “cool” can be overwhelming to many high school age students. This pressure may make them feel as if they can’t say “no”, or force them in to doing something they don’t feel comfortable or want to do. Steve was faced with the decision of participating in this robbery or being labeled as afraid and not willing to help out his “friends”.
Another theme in this novel is racial prejudices in both daily life and the United States court system. Steve and the other boys who are being charged for the murder of a local business owner, soon see they are fighting a battle much greater than they were expecting. The statement, “innocent until proven guilty” does not seem to apply to Steve or the other boys. It actually appears to be the exact opposite. His lawyer tells him the importance of breaking away from the crowd and making sure the jury sees him differently than they see the others being charged. Steve was immediately stereotyped as a young, black, inner city thug, who did nothing but cause trouble and ended up taking the life of an innocent man. He had to prove that these assumptions were untrue. These false beliefs seemed to be “common knowledge” to the jury bases solely upon their previous experiences and prejudices.
Monster, can be very useful in the classroom. Its format alone sets it apart from the typical book in its genre. Holding discussions about the use of different media’s and why Walter Dean Myers chose to use these forms can open the doors to multiple tasks or activities. I would also use this book to talk about the effect different writing styles have on the message and tempo of the story. This novel also offers a new perspective and side of the situation that is not always seen. Steve gives the reader a personal view into his mind and feelings, yet also talks about those who surround him and his environment. Monster, tackles a serious theme of racial prejudice. Reading this novel in class provides a great entry way to have that discussion in class. It allows the students to think outside of the box whether they do or do not relate the Steve Harmon in the novel it still brings to the fore front the real issues and problems that are very prevalent in today’s society.
The problems Steve is having in the novel may be very similar to ones that students in the class may have possibly faced. This theme helps make connections to real life problems and have them addressed in class. These discussions may offer possible solutions and strategies to deal with these issues.
While reading this novel I found myself questioning the truth and asking why or why don’t I believe Steve Harmon’s story. I began asking myself do I think of feel a certain way because of unconscious prejudices. Monster, gave an inside look to a young man’s life and the real life challenges he faces because stereotypes are so deeply engraved in people’s minds. Stereotypes play a role in our everyday life. Judgments and decisions are made solely on those thoughts. Hearing the first-hand accounts of these violations from the one who was being judged was interesting and eye opening at the same time. To think that people are up against such great odds to just be seen as equal and be treated fairly is unreal to me. Myers does a great job of bring up these issues and showing them in a new and creative way that would not have had the same effect had any of the used elements been removed.
This novel has been recognized by many as one of the great young adult novel. It has been given many awards and praised for its unique subject and style.
“Chilling and engrossing”
-The New York Times Book Review
“The sheer authenticity of the novel and its presentation are disquieting – and totally riveting”
-Boston Globe -Horn Book
“A riveting courtroom drama that will leave a powerful, haunting impression on young minds.”