Monster. What is the effect of being labeled and considered less than by society? What does it mean to understand that you’re not considered a complex individual but a criminal just because of the color of your skin. In Walter Dean Myers Monster, the protagonist Steve Harmon wrestles with double-consciousness and fighting back against the label. Harmon is a 16-year-old from Harlem that has been charged with accessory to murder after allegedly participating as the lookout during a robbery at a liquor store. The robbery results in Harmon’s codefendant James King killing the owner of the store.
The novel is composed of a screenplay Harmon writes of the trial along with his journal entries, pictures, and other forms of media that gives him agency opposed to others telling his story and experience for him. Using this method of story-telling allows him to demonstrate his creativity and explore the complexities that he carries as an individual. Readers are able to view his thoughts about how the trial is affecting him, his parents, and his cell mates.
Readers follow Harmon’s journey as a teenager trying to fight against the hegemonic “white gaze” while maintaining his individuality while becoming an acceptable form a blackness, lest the jurors don’t view him as human.
This book can be read by anyone and they’d take away something different from the book. Myers is careful to not disclose if Steve is innocent or guilty, that is something that each reader can decide for themselves based on their background and personal experiences. One of the books main themes is choices, choices in actions, choices to submit to peer pressure, the choice to accept or reject a label that society gives you.
This book is a great read for teenagers and adults. The subtle in-house conversation that takes place allowing black readers to understand and identify what their role may be in the labeling of young black men who are deemed criminals. After taking this journey through the court case with Steve, it may allow some readers to change their mind.