Monster
Walter Dean Myers
1999
Printz Medal
Coretta Scott King Award
National Book Award Finalist

Monster is a riveting and disturbing book–but a profound one, nonetheless. Told in the format of a screen play, Monster is about young, 16-year-old Steve Harmon and his murder trial. Steve is black, from the wrong side of the tracks, and seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Now, he’s being charged as an accessory to a murder that took place at a convenience store in his neighborhood.

Steve feels like everyone looks at him and thinks, “Monster.” Thus the title of the book. He feels like his life is a movie, so he writes down the trial and his experience in prison as a screen play.

It’s hard for me to describe this book, honestly. It is powerful. What a statement it makes about how we judge people, how easy it is to hook up with the wrong kinds of friends, how a snap decision made can have such far-reaching effects, and how devastating, terrifying, and horrible a prison sentence would be to a teen. I didn’t think I would like the screen play format, but after having read it, I don’t think I could have taken it in a more personal format. We need the distance the “camera” provides.

For older teens

Things to Note/Discuss

  • Steve is in prison. And he describes some of what goes on in prison (not in great detail–but we know that he hears people being beat up, sexually assaulted, cursed at, etc.).
  • Steve is in prison. And he describes his fears of being a victim of the activities just mentioned.
  • This is an easy book to read in terms of reading level, but a hard book in terms of content. I think it’s worth reading on some level, but there are hard things in here to read about.
  • Are there people you see–on TV or other news media–whom you judge automatically because of their skin color and/or their neighborhood and/or their proximity to crime? Do you think those looking at Steve really thought of him as “monster”? Would you have without knowing the whole story?
  • Do you think the jury’s verdict is the right one? Why or why not? Perhaps Steve should have been tried on a lesser charge–was he guilty of a crime (perhaps not murder, but a crime, nonetheless)? What is the real story–can we trust Steve to be an reliable narrator?
  • What would you have done in Steve’s shoes?
  • What is our calling as Christians in terms of reaching out to young people like Steve?
  • This book is a good example of the creation-fall-redemption framework. We see the fall clearly and there is redemption at the end. Worth discussing….
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