Monster by Walter Dean Myers

Bibliographic Information: Myers, W.D. (1999). Monster. New York, NY: Harper Tempest.  ISBN: 0064407314.  281 pages.

Plot Summary: Sixteen-year-old Steve Harmon is on trial, as an adult, for felony murder.  He’s terrified. The prosecutor calls him and his co-defendant “monsters.” But, is he a monster, or is he innocent, as he claims? Steve is accused of being the lookout man in a convenience store robbery that ends with the murder of the store owner. But was he there? Uniquely presented in Steve’s voice, the book consists of first person journal entries as well as a movie script-style of story telling, complete with blocking and camera directions. Steve reports on what prison is like, how his trial is progressing and he looks back on the day the events took place.  Dealing with the complexities of racism, poverty, peer pressure, and freedom, readers will experience how painstakingly difficult the jury’s job is as they try to distinguish honorable from self-serving motives and truths from lies.

Critical Evaluation: Compelling and intense, Monster paints a picture of a young boy struggling with right and wrong, prejudice, and the pressure to belong. The honest first person accounts, and movie script-style, give the book authenticity and interest and draw the reader in to the story.  Myers uses realistic language and sets the scene with honesty and integrity.  Many teens will relate to various elements in Steve’s struggles, teens who have been incarcerated or who have committed crimes will hear themselves in some of Steve’s words.  The depths of Steve’s troubles give the reader empathy for his predicament as well as ambivalence about the crimes he is accused of committing. This book is better suited to more mature teens, due to its heavy subject matter, violence, and references to sexual assault in prison.  Monster received numerous awards and honors including: Michael L. Printz Award Winner 2000, Edgar Award nomination for Best Young Adult Mystery 2000, Coretta Scott King Award Honor 2000, National Book Award Finalist 1999, ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults 2000, ALA’s Recommended Books for Reluctant Young Readers 2000.

Reader’s Annotation: The maximum length of the annotation should be no more than two sentences

Information about the Author:  Walter Dean Myers has written somewhere around 100 books, mostly young adult realistic fiction. He has also written children’s picture books and nonfiction.

He was born in West Virginia, in August 1932 and was raised in Harlem, New York.  Myers dropped out of high school, but not before a teacher who recognized his writing talent, told him to “keep writing no matter what happened to [him.]”  He also loved basketball, which plays a role in several of his novels.  He calls his teen years the most difficult years of his life, and draws his writing inspiration from these years.

Genre: Issues, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Alternative Formats, Multicultural Fiction, Realistic Fiction

Sub Genres & Themes: Issues: Social Concerns: Crime and Criminals; Mystery/Suspense/Thriller: Contemporary Mystery; Alternative Formats: Mixed Formats

Curriculum Ties: Social Studies

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Discuss Steve’s predicament, what would YOU do?

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 14-18

Challenge Issues: Crime, Murder, Violence.  In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.  Also, there are several positive reviews of the book, and it has won several awards and honors, three are mentioned above.

Why is this book included? Hailed by critics, I chose to include Monster for its excellent writing and compelling storyline as well as several awards and nominations, as noted above.  I am also a big fan of Walter Dean Myers, so I wanted to include a title of his in my blog.  Monster was published in 1999, but the story of Steve’s struggles is timeless, and will continue to be current for many years to come. Additionally, Monster depicts an African American teen, providing much-needed ethnic diversity to the teen Mystery genre.

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