Death. Gangs. Prison. Fear. Guilt.
In Monster, Walter Dean Myers mixes all these ingredients to cook up a real-life look at life in the 'hood. The story follows the public trial and private thoughts of Steve Harmon, a sixteen-year-old kid growing up in Harlem, who always wanted to be tough.
A high school dropout himself, Myers knows what it means to grow up hard. During his own childhood in Harlem he loved books, but hid them in a paper bag as he walked home from the library. "Not that I was that concerned about [other kids] teasing me—because I would hit them in a heartbeat," he said. "But I felt a little ashamed, having books." (source)
Thankfully, Myers grew out of that shame.
He's written over one hundred books, including children's books and nonfiction articles, and almost every single one deals with the realities of life for young black kids on the city streets. And not just the physical realities, either—Myers also addresses "the emotional impact of the violence that these kids grow up around. It's not a fantasy." (source)
Monster definitely isn't a fantasy.
It's a story about a kid caught in the crosshairs of a burglary gone wrong. As readers, we have front row seats to his thoughts, his terror, his confusion, his guilt, and his innocence. Monster packs a serious emotional wallop, enough to garner over twenty (twenty) awards, including 1999 National Book Award Finalist, 2000 ALA Best Books for Young Adults, New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and… drum roll… the 2000 Michael L. Printz Award for Excellence in Literature for Young Adults (this prize is a majorly big deal).
In other words, Monster has been monstrously well received, dominating young adult lit lists and blowing the minds of readers of all ages.
Why Should I Care?
Just Say No. D.A.R.E. Zero Tolerance.
Feel good, anti-peer pressure slogans flutter from the walls of almost every school hallway in the country and get handed out on bumper stickers after assemblies. But when you're standing on your front stoop, and the tough kid you always wanted to be like offers you (fill in the blank), saying no isn't as easy as a cutesy slogan might have us believe.
But saying yes has consequences.
Steve Harmon learns this the hard way. He sits in a jail cell, waiting to find out if being a lookout for a burglary will land him twenty-five years to life in federal prison. Suddenly, being tough looks stupid, and all he wants to do is tell his little brother to "Think about all the tomorrows of your life" (17.9).
All bad decisions have consequences—even small ones.
Don't believe us? Read Monster.