Steve Harmon is the novel's main character. He is sixteen years old, lives in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, and he is a student at Stuyvesant High School in downtown Manhattan. In the opening pages, we learn that Steve is currently in prison awaiting trial for murder. As a means of coping with jail life, Steve draws upon his interests in film and storytelling and writes down his experiences in the format of a movie script. Whether Steve was actually involved in the crime or not remains ambiguous to the reader. There is no surveillance footage or concrete proof of his involvement. Thus, Steve's culpability is subject to audience interpretation. Throughout the story, Steve faces numerous emotional challenges. He is confronted with his parent's disappointment, and he also fears that authorities view him as a "monster." Particularly, Steve is bothered by his relationship with his defense attorney, Kathy O'Brien, who seems not to believe him. Steve struggles to reconcile his external versus internal lives. The conflict between exterior versus interior is a significant theme throughout the novel.
Kathy O'Brien is the public defender assigned to Steve. O'Brien is a "flat character"—she does not change over the course of the novel, and she lacks emotional depth. There is no information revealed about her personal life, her career, or her feelings about the trial. Rather, her actions demonstrate that she is a thorough and experienced pubic defender. She advises Steve Harmon to present himself in an approachable manner to the jury, and she even enlists a character witness to prove her defendant's innocence. Although she is cordial to Steve, O'Brien seems ambivalent about Steve's character. Her callous reaction to the result of the trial leads Steve to believe that O'Brien truly sees him as a "monster."
Sandra Petrocelli is the prosecutor during Steve's case. Throughout the trial, she contends that Steve was the lookout during the botched burglary, and thus culpable in the murder of Alguinaldo Nesbitt. She is the one who brands Steve—and all of the other men involved in the crime—as monsters. As the trial proceeds, the audience notices that Petrocelli calls upon various eyewitnesses whose accounts ultimately contradict with one another. In addition, the cross examination of Steve's character witness, Mr. Sawicki, is weak. Although she claims that Steve's role is as significant as that of the man who pulled the trigger on Mr. Nesbitt, the jury decides to acquit the novel's protagonist.
James King is a 22-year-old African-American man who lives in Steve's neighborhood. Allegedly, King encourages Steve to become involved in the robbery, offering a cut of whatever money they receive. He is accused of being at the scene of the crime. In addition, Bobo Evans asserts that it is King who actually shot Mr. Nesbitt when the victim pulled out his gun in self-defense. At the end of the novel, we learn that King has been found guilty of murder, while Steve walks away free.
Richard "Bobo" Evans
Richard Evans, also known as "Bobo," was also at the scene of the crime and is portrayed as the leader of the group. Bobo has a long criminal record. He has been arrested for breaking and entering, grand theft auto, and "one time taking a radio and fighting a guy that died." Currently serving time for selling drugs, Bobo makes a deal with the prosecution to testify against James King and Steve Harmon in order to get a lighter sentence for his involvement. During his testimony, Bobo admits that he was at the scene of the crime and that Steve served as the lookout. He also explains that he was aware that King shot Nesbitt, and the two treated themselves to a meal after the crime took place. Bobo's trustworthiness as a witness is uncertain. Although he is one of the only people who was actually there at the time of the crime, he also admits that he will say or do anything in order to get himself a plea deal. Thus, the reliability of his testimony is subject to interpretation.
Osvaldo Cruz is a fourteen-year-old Latino boy also involved in the crime. Allegedly, his job was to stand outside the drug store and prevent any patrons from entering during the time of the crime. Throughout his testimony, the reader is faced with two conflicting representations of Cruz. On the stand, he speaks timidly and fearfully. He explains that he was pressured to be involved in the robbery because Bobo threatened the safety of both himself and his mother. However, during his cross-examination, Cruz's involvement with the violent street-gang, The Diablos, seems to suggest that he is not as timid as he portrays himself to be.
Asa Briggs is the defense attorney for James King. Although he is a minor character in the novel, Briggs asserts that the prosecution has failed to find any concrete evidence that ties King to the murder. Briggs points out that Bobo and Osvaldo's testimonies are clouded by their own desires to lessen their respective sentences. However, Briggs loses the case, and James is ultimately found guilty of the murder of Alguinaldo Nesbitt.
An immigrant to the United States, Nesbitt opens a drugstore in Harlem. Various testimonies explain that he was a hardworking man respected by his neighborhood community. When the men rob Nesbitt's drugstore, he pulls out a gun in self-defense. However, the gun is then turned on Nesbitt himself, and he is murdered.
Mr. Sawicki is the teacher-advisor for Steve's film club at Stuyvesant High School. Steve looks up to Mr. Sawicki, and he references him multiple times throughout the course of his journal. During Steve's trial, Mr. Sawicki is called to the stand as a character witness. During his testimony, Mr. Sawicki testifies to Steve's respectful nature and sensitive filmmaking. Most notably, Mr. Sawicki says, "[Steve's] film footage shows me what he's seeing and, to a large extent, what he's thinking. And what he sees, the humanity of it, speaks of a very deep character." Mr. Sawicki is convinced that Steve has been wrongly accused of involvement in the crime, and he attempts to persuade the jury of his student's innocence.
Mr. and Mrs. Harmon
Steve's parents are deeply affected by his involvement in the crime. His mother is entirely convinced of his innocence, and she is solely concerned with making sure that her son arrives home from jail safely. Although she takes a long time before visiting Steve in jail, her support is unwavering. Steve's father, on the other hand, is clearly disappointed in his son's suspected involvement. While Mr. Harmon visits his son in jail and watches his trial closely, he acts as if he "does not know" his son. After Steve is acquitted of the crime, his father moves away from the home. This distance prompts the reader to question Steve's innocence and evaluate the residual effects of jail time.
Monster Questions and Answers
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