English 394 – Young Adult Literature
Grant T. Smith, Ph. D.
Monster – Discussion Questions
may use any of the following discussion question to complete your reflection
paper for this book.Or you may respond
to your own questions about Monster.
Authors don’t always have a lot of control over book jackets. Nevertheless,
what statements seem to be made by the book jacket of Monster. Notice
that the “m” on Monster is blurred. Why?
What did you think of the format of this book? It
includes a variety of different “discourses” – journal writing, movie script,
trial manuscript. What effect
is achieved by using a variety of formats?
Did you learn anything new about the legal system by reading Monster? If
so, what did you learn?
On the first page. Steve Harmon says that he looks in the mirror and sees
a face he doesn’t recognize. Is
this book about a boy’s search for identity? If
so, does it fit the formula for a “bildungsroman” novel? What
frightens Steve during his search for identity? This
raises the question, is a middle class black boy’s growing up story different
from a middle class white boy’s story?
Petrocelli says that there are monsters in our community—people who are
willing to steal and to kill, people who disregard the rights of others
(21). O’Brien says that
he job is to make Steve a “human being in the eyes of the jury” (16). What
does the title Monster say to you? Why
do you think the author chose this title?
Peaches says “You can’t even hardly make it these days. They
talking about cutting welfare, cutting Social Security, and anything else
that makes life a little easy. They
might as well bring back slavery times if you ask me” (50). Is
Peaches whining? Or does
she have a legitimate observation?
There are several subtle descriptions of very disturbing images in this
book. For example, “We see
the whites of his eyes, then we see him close his eyes as the sounds of
the beating stop and the sounds become those of a sexual attack against
the inmate who was beaten” (57). As
a teacher, how would you handle the realism in the novel? As
a parent, would you want your eighth-grade child to read this book as a
What passage in the book provoked you? Saddened you? Surprised you? Caused
you to think about something new? Tell
How does Myers develop the following themes:
a sense of helplessness, hopelessness
Do some research on African Americans and the penal system. Do
you know what DWB stands for?
O’Brien said that as soon as the jury saw Steve (young, Black, and on trial)
they believed he was guilty. What
assumptions do many people still carry about black American males? Look
at the response of the touring junior high school students at the courtroom
(97). Why does O’Brien
turn away at the end of the novel (276, 281)?
Steve says that the trial isn’t about race (146). Do
you agree or disagree? Doesn’t
race always play a role in our society?
This book won several major writing awards. Why?
If you had been on the jury…how would you have voted?
What vivid images remained with you after you finished the book? For
example, I remember the basketball that lies in the gutter (119). That
simple image suggests many things.
Some Additional Questions from Laretta Henderson from the University
Please consider the title of the text in a number of ways. How does
the term "monster" function in the novel, especially in light of the fact
that African Americans have a history of being labeled as less than fully
human, i.e., during slavery African Americans were considered 2/3 of a
How does your intimacy with Steve and his literacy affect your view of
him versus the other participants in the crime?
Discuss your reaction to the format of the text. Please notice not
only the screenplay and the diary, but the photos, the sketch, the cover,
and the pop culture references, e.g. the beat from Homicide and the Star
Where are you situated in the text? How does your being a European
American, a woman, a man, someone not living in a large city, or an adult
affect your reading of the text?
Discuss the role of race in the text. For example, does it matter
what the race of the judge, attorneys, and defendants is? What about
Mr. Nesbitt's race? How would the story change if Steve were European
What about issues of class? Would the story be different if Steve's
parents were wealthy?
Why does Steve, as the narrator, discuss anal body functions so often?
For example, although "gassy and bloated," he can't go to the bathroom
in front of other prisoners, but they go in front of him. Also there
are references to homosexual rapes. What, if any, is the significance
of Detective Karyl having had hemorrhoid surgery?