Monster Study Guide

Monster is a young-adult drama novel written by Walter Dean Myers. Myers, who spent most of his life in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, drew from his personal and proximal experiences to portray the story of Steve Harmon, an African-American teenager awaiting trial for murder. Myers juxtaposes two different narration techniques to weave Steve’s story together. Pairing a distanced, third-person screenplay with an emotional, first-person diary account, Myers encourages the reader to contemplate the significance of perspective in relation to crime.

In interviews, Myers has explained the research techniques he used in order to construct the novel. While meeting with various inmates at prisons around the New York metropolitan area, Myers was compelled to create a “composite character” whose story could draw upon the themes of accountability, innocence, and the effects of racism on a particular urban community. The novel’s ambiguity is demonstrative of the ambiguous nature of crime and sentencing. There is no definitive answer as to whether or not Steve Harmon was involved in the murder of Alguinaldo Nesbitt. However, this ambivalence prompts the reader to explore the situational and individual factors that led to the narrator’s arrest.

Following the novel’s publication in 1999, Monster garnered critical acclaim. In 2000, Monster was nominated for the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Additionally, the novel won the Michael L. Printz Award and received Honorable Mention for the Coretta Scott King Award. In regards to the novel’s unique style, Myers says, “In interviewing inmates, I noticed a tendency for the inmates to attempt to separate their self-portrayals from their crimes. In Monster, I have Steve speak of himself in the first person in his diary, but when he gets to the trial and the crime he distances himself through the use of the screenplay.” In 2018, the novel was adapted into a film by American director Anthony Mandler. The film premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.