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Myers, Walter Dean. (2001). Monster. New York: HarperCollins. Illustrations by Christopher A. Myers. 288 pp.

Grade Range: 10-12

Genre: contemporary fiction

Summary and Critique

    The justice system can be a confusing and frightening place for anyone, especially a sixteen-year-old boy, Steve Harmon, who has been accused of participating in a robbery and a murder. The book is multi-genre: a combination of film script, journal entries, and pictures. The complete effect is a look inside the mind of someone else and a glimpse at how one wrong move can change your life forever. His experiences in jail and in the courtroom, as well as his interactions with the people that surround him, are realistic. Still, Myers does not write to dissuade hope, and Steve, even in his most depressed states, has courage. Most importantly, there are no concrete answers in the b4teens_book. Myers never says if Steve is guilty or innocent, which gives the reader the ability to make up his/her own mind.

    Because Monster is written as a script and journal, it will appeal to a wide variety of audiences. Although the script gives words and actions, it offers few motivations, making critical thinking skills a basic part of the reading. The modern style is never superfluous, and thus it is nearly impossible to get bogged down in the wording. Each section is short, so even the most struggling readers will respond to the fast paced style of the b4teens_book. Monster offers excellent commentary on the juvenile justice system, making it as home in a social studies classroom as in an English classroom. For classes with very struggling readers, this book also offers an audio version, with the scripted scenes portrayed by actors.

Awards

    2000 Coretta Scott King Honor Books

    2000 Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Literature for Young Adults

    National Book Award Finalist

Themes/Topics

    Families

    Friends and Enemies

    Race, Ethnicity, and Culture

    Challenges and Triumphs

    The Individual vs. Society

Author Information

Media Connections

Movies

    Shawshank Redemption (1994) A calm and quiet banker is sentenced to prison for allegedly murdering his wife.

    The Green Mile (1999) A prison guard encounters a death row inmate with an unusual gift. It is a story of imprisonment and faith, finding happiness even through adversity.

    My Family/Mi Familia (1995) – Explores the struggles and triumphs of three generations of a Mexican-American family, beginning with one man's emigration from Mexico to Los Angeles in the 1930s and concluding with his descendants in the 1990s.

    The American Experience – Marcus Garvey: Look for Me in the Whirlwind (2001) This PBS documentary explores the life of African American leader Marcus Garvey.

    Ghosts of Mississippi (1996) Medgar Evers'widow hires a lawyer to re-open her husband's murder case so that justice will be served.

    Lone Star (1996) After discovering a skeleton that had been buried forty years ago, a small town Texas sheriff must delve through layers or racism and corruption to solve the murder case.

    Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story (1993) Martial arts film superstar Bruce Lee has to overcome many obstacles before becoming successful.

    Michael Collins (1996) Michael Collins, former leader of the Irish Republican Army, fought the British to help Ireland gain dominion status.

Music

    "Hurricane." Lyrics by Bob Dylan. Desire. Ram's Horn Music, 1975. This song chronicles Ruben"Hurricane" Carter's experience with the injustice of the criminal justice system for a black man.

    "Don't Let Me Get Me." Performed by Pink. Missundaztood. Arista, 2001. Pink, the singer, discusses how her image was shaped by her producers and the emotional problems that caused.

Online Resources

Related Texts

    Anderson, Laurie Halse. (1999). Speak. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux. 197pp. A socially ostracized girl is raped at a party and becomes even more withdrawn from her peers than before.

    Lowry, Lois. (1993). The Giver. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. 180 pp. A companion novel to Gathering Blue. Jonas, a young boy with a special gift, experiences the negative side of life in a seemingly perfect society.

    Lee, Harper. (1960). To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: HarperCollins. 323pp. A lawyer, Atticus Finch, defends an African American man accused of raping a Caucasian woman.

    Anaya, Rudolfo. (1972). Bless Me, Ultima. New York: Warner Books, Incorporated. 277pp. A boy who has experienced and witnessed much evil in his short life finds strength with the support of his grandmother, an alleged witch.

    Childress, Alice. (1973). A Hero Ain't Nothin'But a Sandwhich. New York: Coward, McCann, & Geoghegan. 126pp. A thirteen-year old heroin addict resorts to crime to feed his habit.

Teaching Ideas

    (1) "Mock Trial" Students set up a mock trial around the story of Goldie Locks and the Three Bears. They choose a judge, lawyers, defendants, and others to help argue the case. This helps them understand courtroom dynamics.

    [Summarized/adapted from "And now the rest of the story…" by Betty Geffers in IDEAS Plus, Book Nineteen. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 2001. pp. 10-12.]

    (2) "Who Am I?" Mark the four corners of your room Agree, Disagree, Strongly Agree, Strongly Disagree. Assign students names of characters from the book and ask questions (I am on trial, I am a bad person, I believe Steve is innocent) and allow them to move around the room without speaking to one another as response to the questions. They then must hypothesize which character the other students were assigned based on their movements.

    [Summarized/adapted from "Get Out There and Move Something" by Hamilton, Lisa M. in IDEAS Plus, Book Nineteen. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 2001. pp. 45-46.]

    (3) "Shoes" Bring in five pairs of shoes, each suitable/stereotypical of a character in the b4teens_book. Ask students to answer questions about the shoes such as: name the owner, give his/her age, marital status, physical description, job, living arrangements, personality traits, hobbies, favorite book/food/movie, bad habits, and how do people feel about them. Let students share their answers, and then reveal the real owner of the shoes. This gets to the very heart of the idea of conceptual identity.

    [Summarized/adapted from "Walking in Someone Else's Shoes" by Dana, Kimberly A. in IDEAS Plus, Book Fourteen. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 1996. pp. 22-24.]

    (4) "A Letter to Myself in the Future" Have students write a letter to themselves with information such as their physical description, favorite things, what has happened in the world around them that year, and their hopes and dreams for the future. Later, when they graduate or when you feel appropriate, mail them the letter. In a way, Myers'book does this, with Steve cataloging his life and times for future reference. It allows students to evaluate their worlds before evaluating someone else's.

    [Summarized/adapted from "A Letter to My Future Self" by Davis, Linda J. in IDEAS Plus, Book Twelve. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 1994. pp. 54-55.]

    (Review written by Kristina Sullivan and edited by Jennifer E. Moore)

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