Steve knows the best time to cry is when the lights are out and someone is being beaten up and screaming for help. In Manhattan Detention Center, he’s scared all the time. In jail, even strangers find reasons to hurt each other.

He’s on trial for murder, though he never touched the gun. He is charged with being the lookout while Mr. King robbed the store. But really, he stands accused of being a Monster.

Over and over he writes the word. Monster. His defense attorney finally pulls the pencil from his hand. If he acts guilty in front of the jury, there’s no way out for him. He’s black, he’s young, and he’s on trial. In the eyes of many of the jury, he’s guilty until proven innocent.

The finger of blame comes from a dope dealer who’s already served time for manslaughter. He was with King at the shooting. The two left the body and went out for fried chicken and soda. Hoping for a lighter sentence, the heartless dealer’s only too ready to make a deal by piling blame on Steve. The prosecutor makes her pronouncement: All are equally guilty.

Steve paces his cell, waiting for the verdict.  Like everyone around him, he wants his life back again.

Walter Dean Myers paints a graphic picture of what it’s like to be in jail as a black youth. Suspected of horrible crimes, Steve has no real way to defend himself from all the accusations, spoken and unspoken. Almost everyone who means anything to him turns away, some with tears in their eyes. What’s left to believe in when hope is gone?

Monster drives you to think about all the tomorrows of your own life, and the tomorrows of the men charged with crimes they may not have committed. In the end, we’re left wondering who’s actually guilty.

Walter Dean Myers was a National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, and a shining light in the lives of many. Find out more about him at

–Kate Calina


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