Monster (Myers novel)

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Monster (Walter Dean Myers novel) cover art.jpg
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 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,[1] 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 begins with 16-year-old Steve Harmon writing in his diary awaiting for his trial for murder. Steve lived with his mom and his younger brother. Musing on his time in prison so far, he decides to record this upcoming experience in the form of a movie screenplay. Kathy O'Brien, Steve's lawyer, informs him on what will happen during trial. At this stage, only two of the four accused - James King and Steve, since the other two—Richard "Bobo" Evans and Osvaldo Cruz—have entered into a plea bargain (three of them black and one Latino). When the trial first begins, Steve flashes back to a movie he saw in his school's film club and the discussion he had with his teacher, Mr. Sawicki, in which they discuss the idea of predictability.

The trial begins with the opening statements of the state prosecutor Sandra Petrocelli, O’ Brien, and King's lawyer, Asa Briggs. Petrocelli labels the four accused men, including Steve, as "monsters." The lawyers call on several witnesses, including Jose Delgado, who worked for the drugstore owner Aguinaldo Nesbitt; Lorelle Henry, a witness to the crime; as well as Salvatore Zinzi and Wendell Bolden, illicit cigarette traders, who admit to buying cigarettes from James King and Bobo Evans that came from a drugstore robbery that led to the murder. The story of the trial is often broken up by a variety of flashbacks, including ones showing that King is only somewhat acquainted with Steve, that King has accused Steve of fatally pulling the trigger during the robbery. Petrocelli calls as a witness Osvaldo Cruz, who is affiliated with the Diablos, a violent street gang. Cruz admits to participating in the crime only due to coercion by Bobo.

Steve recounts a visit from his father, who wishes Steve would have gone on to attend his alma mater, Morehouse College. After detailing various news reports covering the robbery and murder, Steve then documents his arrest and his mother's panicked reaction. Before returning to the trial, Steve writes in his notes that he cannot psychologically handle writing down the tragic details of the robbery itself. The coroner, the city clerk, and a detective are questioned in a four-way split screen montage. O'Brien warns Steve not to write down in his notebook anything he wants the prosecutor to see.

According to Cruz, the original plan was that Steve would go into the store and signal if the coast was clear. After King and Bobo robbed Mr. Nesbitt, Cruz would slow down any potential pursuer. All sources indicate that Nesbitt drew a gun, which one of the robbers wrestled him for, causing the gun to discharge and kill Nesbitt. Bobo takes the witness stand to say that James King pulled the trigger and vaguely recalls that Steve, whom he hardly knows, was meant to signal an all-clear.

Asa Briggs argues that neither King nor Steve were ever involved in the robbery, since the only eyewitness to the robbery saw only two men involved (and exited before the gun went off), which can be accounted for by Bobo and Cruz alone. O'Brien seems doubtful of Steve's innocence, but wisely has him distance himself from King. Steve appears to know King and Cruz only as remote acquaintances, and Bobo hardly at all. 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. The defense systematically casts 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.

George Sawicki, Steve's film club mentor, serves as a character witness, proudly defending Steve's moral character. Briggs, O'Brien, and Petrocelli finally make their closing statements, before the jury decides on a verdict. James King is found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to 25 years to life, while Steve is found not guilty. As Steve moves to hug O'Brien, she 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. Steve has continued his film-making, but his father has moved away, creating a noticeable distance between the two. He is still confused as to O'Brien's cold demeanor at the end of the trial.

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. 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."[2] 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."[3]

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 oversized 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.[4]

Main characters[edit]

  • Steve Harmon: A 16-year-old African American on trial for murder.
  • Kathy O'Brien: "The Defense Attorney with Doubts". Steve's lawyer, who questions his innocence, but tries her best to defend him.
  • Sandra Petrocelli: "The Dedicated Prosecutor". The Assistant District Attorney who prosecutes Steve and James King, labeling them "monsters" to the robbery; the prosecution uses his testimony against King and Steve because he is receiving a smaller sentence.

• James King- Repeat criminal offender, mastermind of the robbery, always looking for a "get over"

• Richard "Bobo"

  • Asa Briggs: The defense attorney for James King. Has blue eyes and white hair.
  • Osvaldo Cruz: "The Tough Guy Wannabe". 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: A 55-year-old native of St. Kitts. The man murdered in the store during the robbery.
  • Jerry Harmon: Steve's younger brother.
  • George Sawicki: Steve's film club teacher.
  • Lorelle Henry: A 58-year-old witness to the drugstore robbery, but not the murder; she is a retired librarian.
  • The judge: A 60-year-old New York judge; seems to be bored with the case; doesn't talk much.

Autobiographical elements[edit]

As a young man, Myers 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.

Myers' novel is also one of very few young adult novels that features a protagonist of color.[7]

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


  1. ^ "2000 Printz Award". Retrieved 14 April 2013. 
  2. ^ Staunton, John A; Gubuan, Francine (May 1997). "Monster". J ADOLESC ADULT LIT. 45 (8): 791–793. JSTOR 40012833. Retrieved 14 March 2013. 
  3. ^ Cart, Michael (2000). "Carte Blanche: The Dream Becomes a Reality". Booklist. Retrieved 14 March 2013. 
  4. ^ Bosman, Julie (2012). "Children's Book Envoy Defines His Mission". New York Times. Retrieved 28 April 2015. 
  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
  7. ^ Myers, Walter Dean (2014). "Where Are the People of Color in Children's Books?". New York Times. Retrieved 15 April 2015. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Michael L. Printz Award Winner
Succeeded by
Kit's Wilderness