Monster by Walter Dean Myers


Myers, Walter Dean.  Monster.  Harper Collins Books, 1999. $14.95, 240 pages.

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Reader’s Annotation:

Steve Harmon’s future hangs in the balance as he is put on trial to determine if he is a monster.


Steve Harmon is on trial for his part in a drug store robbery that ended with the owner being killed.  To distance himself from the horrific events of the trial and the time he spends in jail, Steve writes about it as a screenplay, something he learned about in his classes at the high school.  The prosecutor accuses him of being a monster, and Steve spends the remainder of the trial examining his motivations and his person to determine if he really is a monster.  He writes his thoughts in a diary, and describes the trial as if he were directing a show.  Besides the time spent in court, Steve also spends time with his lawyer, who is trying her best to fight overwhelming odds, and spends time in his jail cell, with bored and cynical prison guards looking on.  Will the jury find him guilty of being a monster and sentence him to life in prison?


Walter Dean Myers writes about the realistic situation of young black males in Monster.  Through Steve’s eyes, the reader views the things that have lead up to the robbery and to the trial and to who he is today.  The series of events are bleak and unpromising, creating a dark and hopeless atmosphere that hangs over the entire story.  The presence of gangs and the realities of these hard lives are brought into the spotlight as the story continues.  Another dark theme in the novel has to do with race and the legal system.  Steve’s accounts are terrifying, as he seems to be considered guilty until proven innocent.    It is a horrendous feeling of hopelessness and despair.  In the end, although the trial is done, Steve still questions who he is and if he is a monster.  The writing style is innovative with the use of both the screenplay and the diary.  This does make it more complex for readers to understand.

Rating Scale:

  • Popularity: 4
  • Quality: 4

Genre and Subgenre: realistic fiction

Appeal Factors: realistic problems, screenplay writing style, drama, suspense

Readalike Titles or Authors:

  • Life in Prison by Stanley Williams
  • Durango Street by Frank Bonham
  • When I was Joe by Keren David

Awards Won and Book Lists:

  • National Book Award nominee
  • Coretta Scott King Award
  • Printz Award

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Description of the crime
  • Screenplay of Steve’s verdict coming in
  • Steve’s lawyer doubting Steve’s innocence

Book Discussion Questions or Ideas:

  • How does the screenplay format affect the way the story is told?
  • Would you believe that Steve was innocent based on the evidence and witness testimony?
  • What does the book say about the state of the justice system?  Do you agree or disagree with what it says?

Why I Chose This:

I chose this title because it dealt with an African American youth in prison.  It also appealed because of the writing style used in this novel.


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