Monster


Walter Dean Myers. Published 1999.

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What would it feel like to have your life take away? Stripped away at a young age of all future possabilities and aspirations. What if your life was taken for no reason at all, except being in the wrong spot and the right time? This is the story of Steve Harmon in Monster. Monster is a young adult novel that revolves around a sixteen year-old African-American adolescent trapped in a situation where he can't escape. Early in the story it becomes very evident that Harmon is on trial for felony murder and is facing a steep sentence of 25 years to life in prison. Walter Dean Myers presents a very unique viewpoint, allowing the reader to maneuver inside Steve Harmon’s head and visualize what is taking place both in the courtroom and within his deepest thoughts. Myers also brilliantly presents the story in a screenplay format with Steve’s handwritten thoughts included as it depicts Steve Harmon’s feature film.

The question at the heart of the story is whether or not Steve was involved in the killing of a local store owner, 55 year old Alguinaldo Nesbitt. The story unfolds in a courtroom filled with a diverse cast of characters who greatly contribute to the depth of this unique story. These include James King, an acquaintance of Steve Harmon's who allegedly pulled the trigger during the crime, and is a street hustler with a reputation for getting money the sleazy way; Also, Osvaldo Cruz, the gang member who the other characters label a "tough guy wannabe." However, the most interesting character and the one with the most important testimony is Richard "Bobo" Evans, who tells the whole story to the courtroom without leaving out any details...especially details about how involved Steve was in the crime itself... The prosecution begins with Sandra Petrocelli, the lead prosecutor, telling the jury her opening statement the facts of the case, starting by warning them:"Most people in our community are decent, hardworking citizens who pursue their own interests legally and without infringing on the rights of others. But there are also monsters in our communities..."

Over the week in which the trial takes place Harmon encounters several characters including King, who is one of Harmon’s alleged co-conspirators. King is represented by defense attorney Asa Briggs. Representing Steve is defense attorney Kathy O’Brien, a businesslike petite woman who seems to have a grim outlook on Steve’s fate as the trial unfolds. Harmon expresses his deepest thoughts thinking, “She thinks I am guilty. I know she thinks I am guilty. I can feel it when we sit together on the bench they have assigned for us. She writes down what is being said, and what is being said about me, and she adds it all up to guilty.” When nobody believes in you, how do you believe in yourself?

Opposing both King and Harmon is Sandra Petrocelli, the hard-nosed lead prosecutor for the state who through a variety of characters presents a very convincing case of King and Harmon’s guilt. Building a case around qustionable characters such as "Bobo" Evans and Osvaldo Cruz, Petrocelli crafts a strong case about the involvement of Steve in the drugstore murder.While the readers want very much to believe that Steve is innocent, his innocence is kept in the dark for most of the story. What is revealed is the crisis taking place in Steve's mind. He changes over the course of the novel, and a one point comes across a startling realization:"I hear myself thinking like all the other prisoners here, trying to convince myself that everything will be all right, that the jury can't find me guilty because of this reason or that reason. We lie to ourselves here. Maybe we are here because we lie to ourselves."

Through the course of the novel, the reader finds that not only is Steve hoping for the "not guilty" verdict, he's also hoping for confirmation from others that he is not the monster that the prosecutor says he is. Not only does he want others to trust him, he wants to be able to trust himself.

What stands between Steve Harmon and years trapped behind the steel bars he fears so much? Simply put, twelve individuals who, after constant persuasion by questionable testimonies and the smooth talk of a sharp attorney, will reach one of two verdicts: "Guilty" or "Not Guilty." Walter Dean Myers presents an intricate and deep story that leaves the reader in anticipation up until the reading of the verdict.

Reccomendation: Monster is a must read for those individuals interested in a unique and suspenseful novel. There are a few mature themes, but for the most part content is appropriate for all ages.


About the Author

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Walter Dean Myers was born in West Virginia in 1937 but spent most of his childhood and young adult life in Harlem. He was raised by foster parents and remembers a happy but rough life while going through his own teen years. Suffering with a speech impediment, he cultivated a habit of writing poetry and short stories and acquired an early love of reading. In 1954 he quit high school and joined the army. He later held many jobs, including a position at the New York State Department of Labor and at a rehabilitation center. During this time Mr. Myers was actively writing for various magazines and periodicals. He eventually won a contest run by the Council on Interracial Books for Children with his book Where Does a Day Go? in 1969. He presently lives in Jersey City with his wife and four children. He received his degree from Empire State College in 1984.

Myers explains his feelings for the young adult novel, "The special place of the young adult novel should be in its ability to address the needs of the reader to understand his or her relationships with the world, with each other, and with adults. The young adult novel allows the reader to directly identify with a protagonist of similiar interests and development."

Following his success with young adult literature, Myers has branched out to include topics of nonfiction including black history with his recent Now is Your Time! and The Righteous Revenge of Artemis Bonner. Both have received much acclaim.


"...I want to bring values to those who have not been valued, and I want
to etch those values in terms of the ideal. Young people need ideals which
identify them and their lives...guideposts which tell them what they can be,
should be, and indeed are." -Walter Dean Myers


click here to hear Walter Dean Myers speak of his work.

Other Works by Myers

Hoops 1991
Fallen Angels 1988
Somewhere in the Darkness 1992
The Outside Shot 1984
Malcom X: By Any Means Necessary 1993
Autobiography of My Dead Brother 2005

Awards

- Hoops ALA Best Books for Young Adults Citation 1982
- Won't Know Till I Get There Parents Choice Award 1982
- Somewhere in the Darkness Newbery Honor Book 1993
- Malcom X ALA Best Books for Yound Adults 1994
- Monster Michael L. Printz Award 2000

Resources

webenglishteacher.com A Good site to find other great young adult novels.
Teenreads.com This site provides access to great pieces of young adult literature.
Adolescent Literature regarding other great works of young adult literature.
Capital Punishment (statistics on capital punishment)
All viewpoints on Capital Punishment