Monster (Walter Dean Myers novel)
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Cover of unknown edition
|Author||Walter Dean Myers|
|Cover artist||Christopher Myers|
|Language||Spanish and English|
|Genre||Drama, Crime novel, Mystery|
|Media type||Print (paperback)|
|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, 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.
Steve Harmon, 16 years old, sits alone in his cell musing over what he's come to learn about prison in his short time there. He details the violence of his fellow inmates, but points out the fact that they are all strangers - strangers who somehow still find a reason to hurt each other. Steve says he feels as if he has walked into a black and white movie, but that there are no real pictures. His world is just a grainy screen. He says he is going to write a script. Not a script about his entire life, but of this particular experience. Steve says he is going to name it what the prosecutor labeled him as: "Monster".
The novel begins with Steve leaving the Manhattan Detention Center, getting in a van shackled, heading out for his first trial. His defense attorney Kathy O'Brien briefs him on what is about to happen and warns him that everyone will be watching his every move. Steve brings along his notebook so he can begin writing his script. Before he enters the courtroom, he is seated in the same room as a few guards and the stenographer of the trial. They begin talking about the trial as if Steve was not there. A guard makes a point to say that the trial should not last long as it is a motion case.
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 deal by pleading guilty. When the trial first begins Steve has a flashback a movie he saw in his film club and the discussion he has with his teacher Mr. Sawicki in which they discuss the concept of predictability.
The trial begins with the three lawyers—Sandra Petrocelli, the prosecutor, Kathy O’ Brien who is representing Steve and Asa Briggs who is representing James King—giving their opening statements. Jose Delgado, a clerk who works at the store that was robbed is brought to the stand and questioned by both Petrocelli and Briggs. As Jose steps down from the bench, Petrocelli calls on Salvatore Zinzi, a criminal who spent time on Riker’s Island who claims to have had information from a fellow inmate about the holdup at the store. All three lawyers question him, then the story cuts to a flashback of Steve as a young child with his friend Tony. The boys are throwing rocks in a park when Steve accidentally hits a woman who is walking with her boyfriend. Steve tells Tony to run, but he doesn’t and is punched by the man. Tony tells Steve he’s going to get an uzi and blow the guys brains out.
Wendell Bolden, the man Zinzi receives his information from, is questioned next. He reveals that Bobo Evans is the man he got his stolen cigarettes from, who says he was involved in the store robbery. The scene changes to a flashback to Steve and James sitting on a porch with a few friends; James expresses his need for cash and how if he had a crew it’d be much easier. The novel switches back to the trial and the questioning of Bolden. The judge then ends for the day, reminding jurors not to speak with anyone about the case. Steve writes in his notebook what he thinks is happening in the trial; he mentions the idea that despite O’Brien’s assumptions about Petrocelli’s defense, she is trying to make a point to the jury that Steve and James are hardened criminals just like the men on the stand. Steve believes that he is progressing well in his screenplay and shares it with another inmate.
On the second day of the trial a detective is brought in to give his testimony. He relays how he gathered his information, then the novel cuts to his first meeting with Steve at the precinct in which he says James accuses him of being the one to pull the trigger. It then jumps to Steve writing about what he imagines death row to be like.
The novel then returns to the courtroom where Petrocelli calls to the stand the youngest of the four accused: Osvaldo Cruz. Steve then writes of a time he spent hanging out with Cruz and his crew in which he boasts about his gang affiliation. Cruz tells Steve that he isn't hard and when something actually happens he won't be involved because of that weakness. Cruz talks about being afraid of Bobo and his threat against his life as well as his mother's and says this is the only reason he participated. O'Brien uses his fear of Bobo as a questioning technique, as he has committed heinous acts in the name of his gang, The Diablos, yet says he was afraid of Bobo. Even in his conversation with Steve he says, "He don't have no choice. He mess with me and the Diablos will burn him up."
Steve is visited by his father in the novel and it is revealed that he is even more unlike his counterparts. Mr. Harmon details what he wished Steve's life would have been expressing his thoughts of him attending Morehouse College as he had. Steve next details various news reports covering the murder at the drugstore, including one featuring Mayor Giuliani speaking about how everyone deserves protection. Steve then documents his arrest and his mother's panicked reaction as his brother Jerry looked on.
The novel returns to the trial, but Steve writes in his notes that he refuses to write about what happened in the drugstore because he doesn't want to think about it. The medical examiner and Detective Williams are questioned. O'Brien warns Steve to not write anything in his notebook he doesn't want the prosecutor to see.
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.
King's lawyer, Asa Briggs, argues that neither King nor Steve were ever involved in the robbery, since the only eyewitness 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. The end of the novel takes place five months after Steve has been cleared of all charges and released from prison and about a year since the initial robbery. Steve has continued his filmmaking, but his father has moved away, creating a palpable distance between the two. He is still confused as to O'Brien's cold demeanor at the end of the trial.
Themes and format
The novel depicts the themes of identity, race, peer pressure, dehumanization, crime, teenaged masculinity, and the relative or subjective nature of the truth. This idea comes up multiple times throughout the novel. There is the truth in relation to the law, but also the truth of a person's character. Steve during the trial writes about experiences he has had that directly contradict the thug persona he has been labeled with. 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." 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."
The novel is interspersed with various photos depicting Steve. Many appear to be placed around the prison, possibly taken after he has been released as he is dressed in plain clothes although his over sized t-shirt is striped. Possibly indicating that he will never be free from this experience. Myers had an affinity for addressing issues of race in many of his other novels as well as several articles he penned.
- Steve Harmon: A 16-year-old African American boy on trial for felony murder.
- Kathy O'Brien: Steve Harmon's defense attorney, who does not know if he is guilty or innocent and is suspicious, 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.
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. 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." 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.
Myers' novel is also one of very few young adult novels that features a protagonist of color.
The cover artist for the novel is Myers' son, Christopher Myers.
- "2000 Printz Award". Retrieved 14 April 2013.
- Myers, Walter Dean (1999). Monster. Harper Collins. p. 81. ISBN 978-0-06-440731-1.
- Staunton, John A; Gubuan, Francine (May 1997). "Monster". J ADOLESC ADULT LIT. 45 (8): 791–793. JSTOR 40012833. Retrieved 14 March 2013.
- Cart, Michael (2000). "Carte Blanche: The Dream Becomes a Reality". Booklist. Retrieved 14 March 2013.
- Bosman, Julie (2012). "Children’s Book Envoy Defines His Mission". New York Times. Retrieved 28 April 2015.
- Italie, Hillel (4 March 2011). "At 73, Jersey City author Walter Dean Myers is a hero to young readers". NJ.com. Associated Press. Retrieved 7 March 2011.
- Myers, Walter Dean. Bad Boy: a Memoir. New York, N.Y.: HarperCollins, 2001. Print
- Myers, Walter Dean (2014). "Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?". New York Times. Retrieved 15 April 2015.
|Michael L. Printz Award Winner