Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Monster, by Walter Dean Myers

Monster, by Walter Dean Myers. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1999. 281 pp. ISBN 0060280786

Accused of being involved in a fatal robbery, Steve is now in a detention center, more scared than he's ever been in his life.  Sometimes he wonders if he'll ever get out. 

Realistic Fiction

Steve Harmon is a 16 year-old who has been placed in the Manhattan Detention Center, on trial along with others for a store robbery which involved what the prosecution has labeled a felony murder. In order to deal with the frightening and depressing reality of the detention center, Steve decides to write a movie script about his day-to-day experiences in the courtroom and the detention center. Thus most of the novel is a record of the dialogue in the courtroom, Steve's observations of others' appearances and the physical space, and his notes on camera angles, etc. (he's been a member of his school film club for quite a while). Interspersed throughout these movie scenes are Steve's diary entries. Steve comes from a supportive family, yet grew up in a neighborhood where crime seemed like a reasonable option to some. Steve comes to know one such man, and thus becomes accused of taking part in the aforementioned robbery.  Will the jury believe that he is or isn't responsible?

In my opinion, this novel rises to literary excellence in many ways, and it is one I'd recommend to both teens and adults without hesitation.  The first reason is its unique format.  Myers' writing of the majority of the novel as Steve's movie scenes is innovative in itself.  And this format makes Steve's sporadic heartfelt diary entries, which add the novel's emotional/self-reflective content, all the more powerful.  This novel also shines because  Myers leaves Steve's level of involvement in the robbery in question throughout.  Because of this, interesting questions about one's feelings of personal responsibility and how they are affected by how we see ourselves are raised.  Steve is a very likeable character with whom I think teens will easily identify, yet none of the other characters are fully developed, but necessarily so due to the format.  I highly recommend this quick yet enjoyable read.

This novel should help any teen who finds themself in a detention facility or accused of a crime, or in any other highly fear-inducing situation,.  It will also help teens who have acquaintances or friends involved in criminal activity, illustrating the possible negative results of getting involved in such activity themselves.

I was really intrigued by the film script format.


  1. I'm compiling teen literature and this was very useful. Thank you for the post!

  2. I thought this book was really interesting. I had never read about a trial before, so I thought this was hard to understand. This book helps you make connections between what you see on the news and real people. I would not suggest this book if you do not like reading about serious, controversial things.