About the Book

Book Protagonist: Steve Harmon
Publication Date: 1999
Genre: Crime Fiction, Drama

Historical Context


By Walter Dean Myers

Published in 1999, ‘Monster’ is a crime story which focuses on race, the justice system in America, and how one affects the other. The drama won the Michael L. Printz Award in 2000.

Arguably Walter Dean Myers’ most popular book, ‘Monster’ has earned itself a place even in the film industry with a handful of film adaptations of it. Though it is fictitious, it is also quite realistic. Some might even argue it is more real than fictitious because of the social issues raised. The themes in ‘Monsterare absolutely timeless. This masterpiece from Walter Dean Myers is bound to leave the reader questioning so many things- especially the justice system in America.


The story of ‘Monster is one book that would always elicit different reactions from people in varying times and neighborhoods. It is a literature of the Contemporary Times. Although it is clearly not the most recent, it is still quite recent. The recency makes the story even more relatable, especially for people living in America. Harlem, New York City, and Manhattan were both depicted.

There have always been discussions on race and how it influences the justice system and vice versa. Steve’s case- though heart-wrenching, is actually not uncommon, especially in the type of neighborhood he finds himself. And where is this? A place that can very quickly become a crime haven. It was mentioned in the book that most of the young folks in Steve Harmon’s neighborhood were either unemployed or underemployed. Now, that is a recipe for disaster.

Personal Context

Even though Walter Dean Myers was born in West Virginia, he grew up in Harlem, New York City alongside his little brother, Mickey. He dropped out of high school and on his 17th birthday joined the army. At those times, dropping out of high school in a neighborhood like that wasn’t particularly rare. In fact, it was quite common. Thankfully, Myers’ worked out for him. He eventually became a college graduate. It was likely not the same story for the others who dropped out.

Long before Walter Dean Myers went back to school, he served in the army for three years. After that, he became depressed. It became a struggle for him. He started writing again. Discovering James Baldwin’s ‘Sonny Blues’ made him start writing his own experiences down. He wrote a lot, and this resulted in most of the masterpieces from him, ‘Monster’ being one of them. Now, let’s not get carried away. We are talking about Monster‘s historical context here. This is all part of it anyway.

Race and Justice

Monster’ is primarily set in Harlem, New York City. At a time like this when America’s justice system is heavily under scrutiny, books like ‘Monster come in handy and are gold. Don’t get this wrong. The people who run the system have always been accused of being unfair. However, things have not exactly gotten better with time as far as this topic is concerned. In fact, it is believed that prejudice rules supreme and that justice is not blind but can see clearly, unashamedly, and unapologetically.

Considering America’s racial history, one would wonder what is fair about a system where profiling is so common, someone can be written off because of the color of his or her skin. Some black people now engage in profiling other black people even. This is a system where a Judge can simply look at someone, size him or her up, imagine his or her type of neighborhood, then boom—already has a verdict in mind even before the first witness is called to the stand. Black people always fall prey here.

In May 2020, George Floyd was choked to death by a police officer. So before one says all these were in the past, that person should answer this question: As far as recency can go in situations like this, is 2020 so far back? The heart-wrenching truth is George Floyd was killed because he was black. The outrage that followed was just… well, appropriate. In fact, people were not angry enough. Once in a while, something happens that goes on to remind people of him, then his story comes up, and once again, old wounds are reopened.

Everyone is innocent until proven guilty, right? Why then was Steve Harmon called a monster even before he was proven innocent or guilty? Why was he written off so fast? Steve expresses his fears during the trial. He sees the way Petrocelli looks at him and thinks, ‘No, it is over!’. I dare say it is O’Brien’s brilliance that saves Steve. Yes, that was her job (which Steve made easy by not being guilty anyway), but I also dare say that if Steve were not black and just about any lawyer was brought to defend him, the overwhelming lack of evidence that he was not involved in the act would not have been needed to be drummed into people’s ears.

It seemed as though Steve had a lot more to prove other than his innocence. Some people even said they should have hired a black lawyer, but O’Brien won anyway, and I think we know why. A black person would likely understand the plight of another black person. They know what they face.

Still on the issue of race, but unfocusing a bit from it: ‘Monster’ depicts just how cruelly prisoners (especially the ones in certain neighborhoods) are treated, most times without proof that they committed the crimes for which they are accused. We see the guard being mean to Steve the night before the final verdict.


Monster’ will always be relevant. It would likely get even more relevant with time. It is a book that would answer your questions as much as it would leave you with questions unanswered. It would leave you wondering. Furthermore, it would have you coming back, and with each visit, something you didn’t take notice of the last time (a new fact to you) would come up. Describing ‘Monster,’ The Bulletin quotes:

The drama and ethical questions raised will keep the audience not just reading but thinking.”

Simply put, ‘Monster’ is new every morning.

Film Adaptations

Because of how relevant ‘Monster’ is, film adaptations have been made of it. Notable amongst them is the crime drama directed by Anthony Mandler. It was released in 2018. It is titled Monster. The book’s title as well as the protagonist’s name, Steve Harmon, were retained. The film has Gonzalo Córdoba as the Art director, Avy Kaufman as the Casting director, David Devlin as the Cinematographer, and Mobolaji Dawodu in charge of the costume. It stars Kelvin Harrison Jr., Jennifer Ehle Tim, Jennifer Hudson, and a few others. Another film adaptation of ‘Monster‘ was released in 2021. It is also titled Monster.


So many of Walter Dean Myers’ books have won him awards. ‘Monster’ clenched him these awards: Michael L. Printz Aware (2000), National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, New York Times Bestseller, and so on. It is safe to say that Walter Dean Myers’ Monster is an award magnet.


Is ‘Monster’ based on a true story?

No, ‘Monster’ is fiction, so it is not based on a true story; however, it is also as real as it gets because the themes it explores are realistic and timeless. ‘Monster’ is set in Harlem, New York City. Even though it is fiction, Walter Dean Myers, who grew up in Harlem City tapped from his wealth of experiences while writing ‘Monster’. The same can be said about most of his books, anyway.

How relevant would you consider ‘Monster?’

Monster’ is very relevant and will remain so. In fact, it’s likely to get more relevant with time. This is because the story is timeless. I don’t see the issues addressed disappearing any time soon, and even if they did, ‘Monster’ will be there to remind people of history.

Where was ‘Monster’ set?

Monster’ was set mostly in Manhattan and Harlem, United States. Walter Dean Myers grew up in Harlem, New York City and it is evident some parts of ‘Monster’ were inspired by his experiences.

How would you describe ‘Monster,’ the film?

Monster’ has so many film adaptations. However, the one being focused on here is Monster, the film directed by Anthony Mandler and released in 2018. The title of the book and the name of the protagonist were retained. Monster– the movie, tells a story of a seventeen-year-old honor student whose life takes a dip when he finds himself in the middle of a felony murder case. It is a project well-executed.

Chioma Julie
About Chioma Julie
Chioma is a graduate of Mass Communication. With an unwavering love for music, movies and books, sometimes, she also writes to unwind.
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