Monster (Walter Dean Myers novel)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search


Cover of unknown edition
Author Walter Dean Myers
Cover artist Christopher Myers
Country United States
Language Spanish and English
Genre Drama, Crime novel, Mystery
Publisher Harpercollins
Publication date
Media type Print (paperback)
Pages 281 pp
ISBN ISBN 0-06-440731-4
OCLC 40043530
LC Class PZ7.M992 Mon 2004

Monster is a young-adult drama novel by American author Walter Dean Myers and was published by Harpercollins in 1999. It was nominated for the 1999 National Book Award for Young People's Literature, won the Michael L. Printz Award in 2000,[2] and was named a Coretta Scott King Award Honor the same year.

The book uses a mixture of a third-person screenplay and a first-person diary format to tell, through the perspective of Steve Harmon, an African American teenager, the story of his trial for felony murder in the state of New York.


The novel's plot focuses on 16-year-old Steve's experiences during his trial and while waiting in jail. An aspiring filmmaker, Steve records the events of his trial in screenplay format, interspersed with personal journal entries of exposition and his own thoughts and feelings.

The novel opens with Steve in his cell getting ready to leave for his trial. O' Brien his lawyer briefs him on what's expected for the day.

Steve is on trial for taking part in a robbery that ended in murder. At this stage, only two of the participants are on trial—James King and Steve—since the other two—Richard "Bobo" Evans and Osvaldo Cruz—have entered into a plea bargain. Sandra Petrocelli, the state prosecutor, opens the trial by deeming the four young men, including Steve, "monsters."

Petrocelli first calls to the stand the youngest of the four: Osvaldo Cruz. Cruz describes his participation with three others in a drugstore robbery that resulted in the unplanned murder of the drugstore's proprietor, Alguinaldo Nesbitt. According to Cruz, the original plan was that Steve would go into the drugstore, check for police or citizens, and then make a signal if the coast was clear. After King and Bobo robbed Nesbitt, Cruz would be responsible for slowing down any person who chased them. All sources indicate that Nesbitt drew a gun to defend himself against the robbers, which one of the robbers then wrestled him for, causing Nesbitt's death when the gun discharged. Bobo takes the witness stand to confirm that James King pulled the trigger and that Steve, who he hardly knew, was meant to signal an all-clear, though Bobo admits that he never learned what the exact signal was, since he assumed King knew and simply followed King's lead.

A small giveaway is what has linked Bobo and King to the robbery in the first place: in addition to money, Bobo (and, according to him, King too) took five cases of cigarettes as an afterthought to the robbery, which an employee of the drugstore later noticed. In the meantime, Bobo, and possibly King, sold the cigarettes to a man named Salvatore Zinzi, who dealt in stolen goods. When Zinzi was arrested for buying stolen goods, the police offered to see his sentence if he would testify against Bobo and King. In his self-serving testimony, Zinzi thus confirms that he bought five cases of cigarettes from James King and Bobo Evans which they said came from a robbery.

King's lawyer, Asa Briggs, argues that neither King nor Steve were ever involved in the robbery, since the only eye-witness to the robbery, the elderly Lorelle Henry, mentioned seeing merely two robbers, which Briggs argues can be accounted for by Bobo and Cruz alone. Lorelle Henry testifies as a key witness that she saw two men begin an argument with Nesbitt and seize him by the collar before she hurriedly left the store, moments before the shooting.

Steve's own lawyer, Kathy O'Brien, is doubtful about Steve's innocence, but wisely has him distance himself from King. Careful readers can gradually acquire a stronger conviction about Steve's part in the crime. Steve appears to know King and Cruz only as remote acquaintances, and to know Bobo even less. Steve testifies that he does not particularly remember where he was on the day of the robbery, but that he certainly was not a participant. O'Brien and Briggs systematically continue to cast the honesty of Petrocelli's witnesses in doubt. Although many of the testimonies contradict, even the most incriminating toward Steve claims only that he acted as a lookout in the first stage of the robbery; even so, the death penalty is a possibility for him.

Others testify, including a teacher at Steve's school named George Sawicki, who heads the film club. Sawicki serves as a character witness, proudly defending Steve's moral character. The three lawyers—Briggs, O'Brien, and Petrocelli—finally make their closing statements, before the jury decides on a verdict. James King is found guilty of murder and sent to prison for 25 years while Steve is found innocent. As Steve triumphantly moves to hug O'Brien, she oddly turns away, leaving Steve to wonder why. Steve ends with a diary entry written five months later, in which he describes films he makes of himself, a new distance between himself and his father, and his lingering confusion about just what it was his lawyer saw when, despite the victorious verdict, she turned away from him.

Themes and format[edit]

The novel depicts the themes of identity, race, peer pressure, dehumanization, crime, teenaged masculinity, and the relative or subjective nature of the truth. The book reads like a formal screenplay, written by Steve Harmon, interspersed with seemingly handwritten fragments from his diary. The screenplay's verisimilitude is enhanced by such cues as "fade in," "voice over," and “fade out." As one critic wrote, the novel is "Presented alternately as the first‑person, handwritten memoir... [and] a neatly typed screenplay."[3] Critics have commented on how the novel offers "surface effects – marginalia, drawing, photographs, mugshots, and video stills – to offer an analysis of the complex identities that emerge in the context of such surfaces." Generally, the novel has been praised for remarkably sophisticated levels of thematic and formal complexity, considering its ostensible status as a young adult novel. As another critic wrote, "Monster is an experiment in form and structure," demonstrating Steve's "vent[ing of] his passionate perplexity."[4]

Main characters[edit]

  • Steve Harmon: A 16-year-old African American boy on trial for felony murder.
  • Kathy O'Brien: Steve Harmon's defense attorney, who doubts his innocence, but still tries her best to defend him.
  • Sandra Petrocelli: The Assistant District Attorney who prosecutes Steve and James King, labeling them "monsters" to the jury.
  • James King: The 23-year-old defendant who is alleged to have encouraged Steve to join the robbery; he is also said to be directly responsible for the death of the store owner, Mr. Nesbitt.
  • Richard "Bobo" Evans: The 22-year-old defendant who planned the robbery; the prosecution uses his testimony against King and Steve because he is receiving a smaller sentence.
  • Asa Briggs: The defense attorney for James King; he has blue eyes and white hair.
  • Osvaldo Cruz: A 14-year-old boy, slim and well-built, who has a tattoo of a devil's head on his left forearm and one of a dagger on the back of his right hand between his thumb and forefinger. He is in a gang, The Diablos, and has been arrested multiple times. He argues that he only participated in the robbery because of his fear of Bobo, though his violent gang history makes this excuse doubtful.
  • José Delgado: A young, well built drugstore clerk, and the first person to see the murdered Nesbitt.
  • Salvatore Zinzi: A criminal in jail telling the story he heard to get a break in his jail sentence. He was not part of this crime.
  • Alguinaldo Nesbitt: The man murdered in the store during the robbery.
  • Jerry Harmon: Steve's younger brother.
  • George Sawicki: Steve's film club teacher.

Autobiographical elements[edit]

As a young man, Meyers struggled with a speech impediment that caused many of his classmates and teachers to ridicule him and think him unintelligent.[5] He often got into trouble at school for selling drugs in school and on the streets. When trying to defend himself against the ridicule, many labeled him a “Monster" much like how Steve Harmon was labeled a "Monster."[6] Later, while working as a construction worker, Myers decided to follow advice given to him by his high school writing teacher and began writing at night after work, just as the character Steve Harmon writes throughout the novel.

The cover artist for the novel is Myers' son, Christopher Myers.


  1. ^ Myers, Walter Dean (March 23, 2015). Monster. New York, NY: Harper Collins. ISBN 978-0-06-440731-1. 
  2. ^ "2000 Printz Award". Retrieved 14 April 2013. 
  3. ^ Staunton, John A; Gubuan, Francine (May 1997). "Monster". J ADOLESC ADULT LIT. 45 (8): 791–793. JSTOR 40012833. Retrieved 14 March 2013. 
  4. ^ Cart, Michael (2000). "Carte Blanche: The Dream Becomes a Reality". Booklist. Retrieved 14 March 2013. 
  5. ^ Italie, Hillel (4 March 2011). "At 73, Jersey City author Walter Dean Myers is a hero to young readers". Associated Press. Retrieved 7 March 2011. 
  6. ^ Myers, Walter Dean. Bad Boy: a Memoir. New York, N.Y.: HarperCollins, 2001. Print
Preceded by
Michael L. Printz Award Winner
Succeeded by
Kit's Wilderness

External links[edit]