Book 2: Monster

June 25, 6-8 p.m. Zoom Discussion


Walter Dean Myers' movie-like novel offers the direct perspective of a young, black teen whose experience with the judicial system is dehumanizing. The main character, Steve, offers the reader a glimpse into the mind of someone experiencing real fear due to racism and stereotypes. I believe that this perspective is valuable to all readers because the experience is not had by all, but the knowledge of such an experience will be invaluable to move to a sense of understanding.

View our recorded Zoom discussion from June 25.

For Discussion:

1. Is justice served in Steve’s case? Based on the evidence, what was Steve’s role during the robbery? Should he have been charged with, or convicted of, felony murder? How should the jury have voted?

2. In the opening credits to his movie, Steve writes that this is “the incredible story of how one guy’s life was turned around by a few events.” When does Steve lose control of his own fate? What could he have done differently to avoid the situation he finds himself in?

3. Steve also writes that the story is “told as it actually happened.” Is that true? How does the fact that the story is told from Steve’s point of view influence what the reader knows about the events surrounding the robbery?

4. Steve imagines the defense attorney is looking at him and wondering “who the real Steve Harmon was.” Who is the real Steve Harmon? Is he a “monster,” as the prosecutor calls him? Why is it so important to Steve to have a better understanding of who he is?

5. Reread the prisoners’ debate on truth (pages 220–222). Who is right? What happens to truth in our legal system? Are people always encouraged to tell the truth? Are lawyers always most concerned with the truth? Are fact and nonfact the same as truth and nontruth? How might the characters in Monster answer this question?

6. After a visit from his mother, Steve says, “I knew she felt that I didn’t do anything wrong. It was me who wasn’t sure. It was me who lay on the cot wondering if I was fooling myself.” Why doesSteve begin to doubt himself?

7. The book’s characters are diverse in many ways, including race, background, and age. What makes the characters so realistic? How do they make the story and life in jail seem real? One of the prisoners, Acie, says, “All they can do is put me in jail. They can’t touch my soul.”What does he mean by this? Is he right?

8. Which witnesses were sympathetic to Steve? Who is credible—the witnesses or Steve?

9. Steve’s defense attorney, O’Brien, tells him, “half of those jurors, no matter what they said when we questioned them when we picked the jury, believed you were guilty the moment they laid eyes on you. You’re young, you’re Black, and you’re on trial. What else do they need to know?” What does this statement imply about the American justice system? Does it treat everyone fairly? Do you agree with O’Brien’s assessment? Was race a major factor in the outcome of the trial? Why or why not?

10. Petrocelli, the prosecuting attorney, maintains that “they are all equally guilty. The one who grabbed the cigarettes, the one who wrestled for the gun, the one who checked the place to see if the coast was clear.” Is everyone equally guilty, or are there varying degrees of guilt? What are the degrees? Is Steve innocent or guilty?

11. Is the screenplay format an effective way to tell the story? Why did the author choose to use this device? In film class Mr. Sawicki warns his students against making their films “too predictable” and also advises them to “keep it simple.” Have Steve and, by extension, the author of the novel, achieved those goals? Why or why not?

12. How does the art in this book enhance the story? As Steve’s movie begins, the credits look like those in Star Wars. What does this say about Steve?

Critical Acclaim for Walter Dean Myers’ Monster

  • 2000 Michael L. Printz Award
  • 2000 Coretta Scott King Author Honor Book
  • 1999 National Book Award Finalist
  • 1999 Boston Globe-Horn Book Fiction Honor Book
  • 2000 Los Angeles Times Book Prize Finalist
  • 2000 Edgar Allan Poe Award Nominee
  • 2000 ALA Best Book for Young Adults
  • 2000 ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers
  • 1999 Books for the Teen Age (New York Public Library)
  • 1999 Notable Children’s Book, The New York Times