Monster: A Graphic Novel

Book review by
Terreece Clarke, Common Sense Media
Monster: A Graphic Novel Book Poster Image
Thought-provoking adaptation of classic coming-of-age novel.

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Monster: A Graphic Novel does a great job of showing elements of self-examination as well as introducing film terms and an insider's look at the criminal court process.

Positive Messages

Scenes of redemption and self-reflection throughout that serve as bright spots of positivity within the darkness and despair of a violent murder trial.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Because of the main character's ambiguity, it's tough to view him in a solely "positive" light. However, he does exhibit positive traits. HIs parents are positive role models -- two of only a few adults who are portrayed positively.


Inmates are concerned about being raped in jail, and readers "hear" a possible rape in progress in jail. There are several fight scenes and one situation in which an innocent victim is shown having a letter cut into his face as part of a gang initiation. People are intimidated with violence, and the main story involves the murder of a shop owner. The shop owner's body is shown in a flashback as well as in police investigator photos.


Name-calling, including "f--got" and "stupid."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults are shown drinking alcohol, smoking what could be marijuana, and selling drugs. A teen is offered a marijuana cigarette but refuses the offer.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Monster: A Graphic Novel is an illustrated representation of timely but strong themes in Walter Dean Myers' original novel. Street life, a murder, and life inside jail are realistically depicted. Parents should be ready to discuss the criminal justice system, racism, perception of guilt or innocence, and peer pressure.

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What's the story?

Steve Harmon is a 16-year-old budding filmmaker awaiting trial for the murder and robbery of a beloved bodega owner. He sees his experiences in jail and on trial through the lens of a movie script. Steve grapples with fear, depression, and questions of whether he really is the MONSTER the prosecution says he is.

Is it any good?

Readers may be wary of messing with a masterpiece when a new version of a classic novel is created, but the striking, eerie art of this graphic novel adaptation quickly puts those fears to rest. The fear, doubt, uncertainty and confusion of Walter Dean Myers' novel is all there. As with the original, you want to root for Steve -- to believe in his innocence and hold your breath for his safety as he navigates the horrors of prison life. Yet, as with the novel, readers of the graphic novel will find themselves doubting the innocence of a teen with so much to live for who's working so hard to convince himself he still has some piece of humanity left.

In the hands of indie comic favorites Guy A. Sims and Dawud Anyabwile, the book comes to life for a new generation of readers at a time when society's narrative about the humanity of boys and men of color is often subjective. Stark and open-ended, MONSTER: A GRAPHIC NOVEL is an excellent resource when discussing current events, criminal justice, and peer pressure.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about media portrayals of violent crimes. What is the difference between the way a criminal trial is presented in the novel versus the way it's presented on television?

  • Families also can talk about peer pressure and ways to say no, even under threat of harm.

  • What happens when people view the same event(s) from different perspectives? Can you point to examples of this in current news events?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love graphic novels and books with characters of color

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