Graphic Novel Review: Monster

If the play didn’t work for you, give this graphic novel a try.

Monster: A Graphic Novel by Walter Dean Myers, adapted by Guy A. Sims and illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile.
Amistad, HarperCollins, New York, 2015.
Graphic novel, 153 pages.
Lexile:  GN420L  ( What does GN mean in Lexile? )
AR Level:  not yet leveled

This is a graphic novel adaptation of Monster.  I’ll repeat my summary of the novel:

Monster is a complicated novel of a story-within-a-story.  At first glance it is the straightforward tale of a boy who is accused of assisting in a murder during a robbery-gone-wrong, mostly expressed through his recreation of the trial as a screenplay and his diary notes from prison.  But it is also the story of a criminal justice system where the mostly white cast assumes all the power over the mostly black “monsters.”  Then there are also flashbacks that add more information about Steve Harmon and the other characters which call into question his real role in the murder.  Meanwhile, we are seeing all of this through the lens of one desperate young boy – what is the truth?

Monster graphic novel

You might recall my review of the novel Monster, which took me more than six months to read and review (thankfully it was checked out from a library I work at, so I could keep renewing it).  In contrast, this graphic novel took me a few hours to read and is being reviewed instantly – because I can certainly recommend it.

Here we SEE what Steve Harmon is picturing, which is so much better.  This is a relatively short book with a huge cast of characters – everybody involved in the trial and a variety of people from Steve’s life.  Many are only in one scene.

Monster p 25
Monster, part of page 25

With the script/journal format appearing mainly at transitions, the feel of the original is preserved (and continues to help with scene changes) but the visual transition makes the plot, and characters, so much easier to recall.

It isn’t often I will promote a graphic novel over the original work of literature, however in this case I feel that the comic does a better job of conveying the story and portraying the author’s original intent.  Doubt is still introduced, not only in the defense attorney’s mind, but also in the reader’s mind.  However, this time I was on Steve’s side the whole time.

Monster p 84 85 resized
Monster pages 84 and 85.

We can actually see his parents crying, instead of his necessarily detached self explaining why they are upset.  We feel his fear and pain and desperation more viscerally, and it’s more obvious where he’s lying and why.

Spoilers  / At the end, instead of fixating on the question I had during the novel (is Steve innocent or guilty?), I was instead thinking about his future.  Steve talks about spending all his time inside, rehashing the case and making movies.  Has he been diverted from his promising path into obsession about his experiences?  Or is he letting them fuel his passion for film-making and propel him to greater things?

Spoilers continue Both books left me with a question, but this time I accepted that we won’t get specific answers.  He was in the drugstore but didn’t commit the murder.  Any part in the robbery is unclear.  We don’t know exactly what happened, but we know who he is.  I didn’t like the thought of his future destroyed by events he was pushed into by his skin color and neighborhood. \  End of Spoilers

Monster p 24 resized
Monster, first two boxes of page 24.

Much like the original, the violence, setting, and references to drug use and gang life lead me to recommend this graphic novel for teens and up only.  It may be suitable for individual students or classes at the middle school level, but I’d recommend previewing it first.  Generally, I felt more comfortable drawing conclusions after reading this book.  Monster: A Graphic Novel retains the feel and importance of the original, but is much more readable. 


Author: colorfulbookreviews

I work in a library by day and parent the rest of the time. I am passionate about good books representing the full spectrum of human diversity for every age group and reading level. This blog is my attempt to help parents, educators, and librarians find the best children's books authored by or featuring characters of color.

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