Monster

cover image for MonsterMyers, Walter Dean. (1999) Monster. New York, NY: HarperCollin’s Children’s Books

Plot Summary:

Sixteen year old Steve Harmon is in jail, waiting to be tried for murder, and not even his attorney is convinced he’s innocent. If he’s convicted, it will be decades before he can get out.  Overwhelmed and afraid, Steve retreats to his journal, telling his story in screenplay form, just like he learned to do in film club at school.

Critical Evaluation:

The cover of Monster is covered with so many prestigious awards it’s a wonder there is room for anything else – and it deserves every one of them.  The idea of a novel as a screenplay does not sound like a brilliant idea, aside from the novelty factor, but Myers work here is brilliant.  Not only is the screenplay itself well done but the detachment and insightful commentary found in it is in stark contrast to Steve’s more personal and panicked journal entries.  Together they offer thought-provoking and empathetic commentary on not only Steve’s plight but on the dangers, discrimination, and stereotypes that black boys like Steve must navigate.

Reader’s Annotation:

“The best time to cry is at night, when the lights are out and someone is getting beaten up. That way they won’t hear you.”

Author Information:

http://www.walterdeanmyers.net/

Genre:

Award Winner

Booktalking Ideas:

One of the more clever parts of the book is the fact that it’s never quite clear if Steve is guilty or not; this allows Myers to both suggest innocence while also making the case that Steve deserves compassion regardless. I think it would be interesting try a booktalk that casts the listeners as the jury and the presenter as an attorney.  That way in can present it as a kind of whodunit (which is a driving plot point) but also keep the focus on letting the readers make up their own minds, as the book does.

Reading Level/Target Age:

4th grade/14-19

Possible Controversy:

There is frank talk of rape and other violence perpetrated by inmates and the view of the justice system is honest but not terribly flattering.  Like many things that make books controversial, this is also a big part of what makes it such an essential story.  The multiple awards as well as the importance of the topic should help when making a defense.

Reasons for Choosing This Title:

I’ve been remiss in not reading anything by Myers before and this is one of the titles I hear about most often.

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