An interesting and different approach to young adult fiction

"They take away your shoelaces and your belt so you can't kill yourself no matter how bad it is. I guess making you live is part of the punishment."

Monster is a novel centered around the character Steve Harmon. He has a few labels placed upon him, such as male, black, teenager, student, and filmmaker. In the novel, the label of "Monster" is the one that Harmon has the most difficult time accepting. The driving plot of the novel is that Harmon is on trial for the murder of a store clerk. (In all honesty, to me it is irrelevant to whether or not he was involved or not).

To make the time pass between his next court appearance and the time spent in lockdown, Harmon escapes through his writing. Harmon is an aspiring filmmaker, and he naturally gravitates towards the script format. He writes down the series of events that occur in script format, and also offers narratives or journals on more introspective thoughts that he has. What we are given in the novel is a great mix of the two. There is an obvious distinction between the two different styles and tones, and it makes for a close interaction between the reader and narrator. We get really close in the mind of a character that is not ideal, but is someone with whom we can sympathize. The actual text of the novel is formatted to look like handwriting, which really lends itself to the charade of this being Harmon's actual diary.

Monster by Walter Dean Myers

The video above was a project done by a KSU student for Adolescent Literature.

"Monster" in the classroom

As far as implementing this reading in my classroom, I could definitely surround a few weeks for of lessons that could range from anything from something as simple as different types of narration styles, plot lines, etc., to something that might be a bit more heady that would bleed over into other aspects of different classes. An example of that would be if my students were covering the topic of juvenile court cases, the branches of government, and such. The more fun thing to do would be to obviously have the students give their own examples of personal narration, or scripting and screenwriting.

Common Core Standard CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.8.3b "Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, description, and reflection, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters."

For a writing project, I would have the students develop different variations on the ending of the novel. i.e. if Harmon was actually found guilty, or if he his screenplay became a movie what kind of revisions would be made to his screenplay. Another option would for them to write their own screenplay over an event in their life.

Possible Lessons and Student Examples

Here is a link to an awesome page full of great examples of how to work with "Monster" in the classroom.
  • Reading level: Ages 13 and up
  • Paperback: 281 pages
  • Publisher: Amistad; Reprint edition (May 8, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0064407314
  • ISBN-13: 978-0064407311