The Young Adult novel, Monster, is the first Michael L. Printz award recipient. This award began in the year 2000 and is given annually by Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) to the best young adult book published in the previous year. It also is a Coretta Scott King Award Honor book and is a National Book Award Finalist.
The story, told in first person, by the young protagonist Steve Harmon, is interesting from the beginning. He is on trial for his involvement in a murder case. With a couple of older, tougher Black people, he has a part in a foiled drugstore robbery turned murder case. He is a movie-making buff so he writes everything down in a journal as if it were a movie, with voice-overs, camera pans, long shots, etc. The entire book covers the court case in movie making lingo. The main characters are Steve Harmon and his defense attorney.
The prosecuting attorney makes the comment in court:
"Most people in our community are decent, hardworking citizens who pursue their own interests legally and without infringing on the rights of others. But there are also monsters in our community people who are willing to steal and kill." (p. 21)
Thus, the title of the book and the questioning that begins in Steve's mind. He is trying to figure out who he is in this book, the all time big YA question, "Who am I?", which I believe is the overall theme of the book. He thinks that he is a good person and tries to justify the fact that his involvement in the episode was minor; he was simply the lookout and was not in the store when the actual murder happened.
The setting for the story is primarily in the courtroom and the prison. He is fearful all the time, and rightfully so. The book spares no details on the unpleasant realities of life in prison. Adults should consider the maturity level of the young adult before recommending this book to them.
The format for this book is extremely creative and interesting featuring a lot of visual appeal. The book will naturally intrigue Young Adults from the first impression of the book. The cover has a ¾-size, colorful book jacket. Beyond the movie-like text with varying fonts, there are journal entries that appear to be hand-written, photographs, and a courtroom sketch.
In the end, his question of "Who am I?" goes unanswered. Steve receives a not guilty verdict. He turns to give a thank you hug to his lawyer, who turns pensively away. Five months after his trial he is still wondering why she did this. He is constantly taking video footage of himself, trying to discover himself. The last statement in the book is What did she see? in reference to his lawyer and her reaction to him.
It does not take long for even the novice to figure why this book has received so much recognition by the literature elite. The format and content is unique. Beyond entertainment value, the book offers a message on the importance of life decisions without being preachy or didactic.
Myers, Walter Dean. 1999. MONSTER. Illustrations by Christopher Myers. New York: HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN: 0064407314.