Monster by Walter Dean Myers
Young adult literature is a specific genre. It requires both wisdom and honesty to write, whereas teenagers are the audience that does not forgive lies and sermons. Yet, they desperately seek for someone to give answers to their major questions about living and coming of age. Monster by Walter Dean Myers combines the unique form of narration with a message that makes to think about the sense and the consequences of actions and choices. The theme of adolescence is closely related to the themes of race and violence. Just like many young people, the main character is looking for a flock to stick to; thus, he makes mistakes that lead him to the threat of prison.
Although written in a popular genre of young adult novel, the book is unique in the form and techniques, which the author uses in order to convey a message. It is a first person narration, which suggests that the novel is a confessional one. At the same time, the borderline between the real and the imaginary is quite thin, as the character writes a screenplay based on his life. This approach helps the author in combining the two perspectives: the first and the third person, because making his life a screenplay requires a necessity to view it in terms of the other people’s life.
In the novel, the author describes the coming of age challenges that Steve Harmon, a sixteen-year-old teenager, faces. He is a black person and lives in Harlem, which makes his life closely linked to the aspects of race and violence. The author asks a question, to which extent such people’s lives are predetermined by their environment, and whether they are able to break the vicious circle that deprives that of any chance to live a different life. As a typical person of his age, Steve has a need to belong to a group of peers. In fact, he is being unaware of the path he chooses when joining a crew of violent guys who make him involved in a crime.
The author does not condemn the young men because he believes that their fate is confined to a narrow range of opportunities in a tough black Harlem neighborhood. Early in their lives they become cynical about the world as they have to learn how to survive under the pressure close to the bottom of social hierarchy. At the same time, the author implies that despite the fact that there is a limited number of options for these people, there is always a moral choice to make. Steve fails to make the right choice when choosing the company because of his adolescence and lack of experience. As a sixteen year boy, he strives to find and reinforce his identity as a man, and his ideas of manhood are quite immature. It often happens that teenagers fail to distinguish between true masculinity and violence, and this is the case with Steve. He might realize that the company of older hooligan guys is probably not the best option for him, yet he is attracted by their self-confidence, which he lacks at the point. Besides, he is not aware of how far this can go, until he gets involved in a drugstore robbery with an accidental murder of a person. So, alongside with the rest of the crew he has to face the trial.
However, Steve is lucky to get help and understanding from Kathy O’Brien who defends him. The attorney realizes that the boy is different from the rest of the guys. Moreover, he is not “a monster” as Sandra Petrocelli names him and James King. In fact, the author traces the roots of “monstrosity” as a social phenomenon, which often starts in adolescence. He implies that becoming a monster, an outcast or rebel, is not always a conscious choice but often a result of unfortunate coincidences, lack of experience or wrong judgment. A victim has all chances to become a monster too when getting into malicious environment as it is the case with Steve.
The outcome of the trial is fortunate for Steve; with the help of his attorney he is let free as he is announced not guilty. At the same time, he does not have the feeling of finality because he still questions his own identity. In the course of the events, he goes several steps in the direction of more maturity. He learns more about the right and the wrong. Yet, he is not quite satisfied about the verdict, although he is happy to be free. Deep inside, he is not sure whether he is not guilty and whether the wrong choice that he made has not turned him into a bad person. The tone of the whole book is gloomy, and there is not a sharp contrast between the mood at the beginning and the end. Consequently, this implies that the main character does not feel satisfied: he is not in a real prison but because of his environment his life is like prison too, as he has not much choice.
All in all, the novel raises a whole number of issues which accompany the theme of adolescence. The author demonstrates how environment shapes a personality and how one’s identity can be shaken by one mistake that a person makes as a teenager. The book also highlights the problems that young black people face in a neighborhood, where they have little chance to start a different life.