Monster by Walter Dean Myers
“Lie down with dogs; wake up with fleas.” I remembered reading this ‘aphorism’—a witty little statement by Benjamin Franklin—as I read the novel “Monster.”
The main character of the novel, Steve Harmon, is in just such a position. He appears to be a good guy in general—he has no criminal record and he’s a talented cinematographer. Yet he has somehow gotten involved with other guys who are accused of murdering a Harlem drugstore owner. Steve is accused of being the lookout for a robbery that ended in the murder. Now, at sixteen, he is on trial for that murder.
The story is told through Steve’s journal entries and through a screenplay he is writing about his experience. The journal gives the reader insight into Steve’s experience in jail and his feelings about his experience. The drama is more objective—people speak for themselves—lawyers, the four accused boys, the officers, the judge. The truly interesting thing about this format is that it is not clear whether Steve has willfully participated in the drugstore robbery. As you read and try to figure it out for yourself, you’ll be swayed by the evidence, by your sympathy for Steve and his parents, and by your own experiences with the law and prejudice—whatever those experiences are.
As a parent of teenage boys, I wanted to hand all three this book as a cautionary tale—read this so that you can see what happens when a good kid hangs around the wrong people.
What do you think? Were you sympathetic with Steve? Is it true that if you ‘lie down with dogs’ you will ‘wake up with fleas’?