Monday, February 12, 2007


Author: Walter Dean Myers
Publisher: Harper Tempest
ISBN: 978-0-06-440731-1

Steve Harmon is 16 years old, black, and on trial for murdering a Harlem shopkeeper during a robbery. The prosecuting attorney repeatedly refers to Steve and his co-defendant as “monsters.” Steve’s attorney says that a large part of her job will be simply getting the jury to see Steve as a human being.

Monster is Steve’s account of his imprisonment and trial. An avid student in his high school film class, he presents his story as a film script. Interspersed between the trial scenes are flashback scenes that reveal portions of Steve’s life up to the time of the trial. These film scenes alternate with excerpts from Steve’s prison journal, as depressing an account of life in jail as anyone will ever read. The film and the journal reveal Steve’s deep fears. He is afraid of other prisoners, afraid of spending twenty years in prison, afraid of the numerous quirks of the American judicial system and afraid of the effect his imprisonment and trial are having on his relations with his family. Through Steve’s film and journal, the reader is allowed to look deeply into the soul of a sensitive, troubled young man.

As the story progresses, the reader is not sure what role Steve played in the crime for which he is on trial. As the story closes, the author provides some hints regarding Steve’s guilt or innocence, but never explicitly answers the question. Instead, Myers allows the reader to come to his or own conclusion.

The book includes a Reader’s Guide for classroom discussions about the book. Like many of Myers’ other works, this one is written for adolescents. By casting his story in the form of a film script and journal, Myers employs two forms that should appeal to teenagers. After all, most teens enjoy movies and many of them may keep diaries. Moreover, these two formats allow Myers’ to keep his prose very informal and to communicate his tale efficiently. Myers never uses five words if three will suffice.

The Reader’s Guide is followed by a brief interview with the author. In this section, Myers explains how and why he wrote this story, and what he hopes it will accomplish in the lives of its audience.

Monster is a story that teens will carry with them long after they close the back cover. It is a stark story about the moral choices that teens face every day and about the long-term consequences of those choices. An absorbing tale, Monster should keep readers enthralled and give them important insights into the responsibilities that they bear for themselves, for their families and for society.