Imagine being a teenager, struggling with who you are, but being filled with dreams of making it in the future, dreams of having a fulfilled life. Teenagers are known for taking rational decisions without overlooking the consequences, which in a suburb like Harlem can turn out very bad. They tend to get persuaded into taking the easy way out, which in many cases is also the criminal way. The book ‘Monster’ gives a good example of how an African-American teenager in Harlem gets persuaded into taking this easy way out, which might turn out in having his dreams shattered.
Steve Harmon, a sixteen year old kid from Harlem, is on trial for murder. He allegedly participated in a robbery with James King and Richard “Bobo” Evans, which resulted in murder. As a big fan of movies and filming, he decides to write his story in the form of a movie script. As he is struggling with feelings of guilt and fear, he believes he doesn’t belong in prison. He’s not like the other inmates, who seem to have accepted the fact they’re ‘stuck in the system’. Flashback of his youth show that he is not a bad person, whether or not he is guilty.
What makes this book different than other books, is that it is not about morals and ‘the right thing’. It is about Steve Harmon, and the feelings he has. Of course these morals come in to play, but this is not the primary subject. Eventually you don’t know whether he is guilty or not. In the flashbacks you see him talking to Bobo about participating, and it’s written in his diary that he ‘only went in and looked for some gum’, while in court he said he had not visited the drugstore that day. This means he committed perjury, which is already a crime on itself. Eventually he is found not guilty, and start his life with a clean sheet. I believe the book is written to depict his thoughts, and show what is going on in the head of a teenager who might never taste freedom again.
Walter Dean Myers is an African American writer, who has written over fifty books, including novels and non-fictions. You can see that he is not happy with the role African Americans have in the world. Like ‘Monster’, many of his books are about struggling teenagers, mostly black teenagers, and this reflects on his personal life when he was young. Myers too grew up in Harlem, and his life centred around his neighbourhood and the church. Even though he was a smart kid, he didn’t really fit in at school, and so he dropped out and joined the army when he was 17. He has won the Coretta Scott King Award for African American Authors five times.
The book gives a good picture of the American system of justice, wherein certain people, mostly Black people, are prejudiced against. In theory, everybody is treated equally, but in reality, it often seems some have less chance than others. In the book ‘Monster’, the suspects seem to be punished very harshly, which seems a little unrealistic to me.
The plan was to rob the store, without anybody getting hurt. The unarmed robbers entered the store, and the storekeeper pulled a gun, with which he got shot in the heat of the moment after a struggle by one of the two robbers. Obviously, this wasn’t part of the plan and Steve had no idea whatsoever that this was going to happen. Therefore I believe Steve should’ve been on trial for participating in a robbery, not for murder. The possibility of Steve going to prison for the rest of his life for being lookout for a robbery which resulted in a murder he had nothing to do with, seems quite extreme to me.