Beloved

Book review by
Common Sense Media Editors, Common Sense Media
Beloved Book Poster Image
Popular with kids
Haunting Pulitzer Prize winner about slavery's impact.

Parents say

age 16+
Based on 17 reviews

Kids say

age 15+
Based on 12 reviews

A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

This book puts human faces on a very difficult period of American history. Though a work of fiction, it will help readers get a better understanding of slavery's injustice and the impact it continued to have on people and their families even after they became free.

Positive Messages

This book intentionally details disturbing incidents to make readers think deeply. Sometimes the best lessons are learned by not glossing over the horrors. The messages in this powerful book bring up a wide variety of sensitive topics, from slavery and racism to school reading lists and censorship. (See our ideas for topics you might want to discuss with your kids.) But the anti-slavery and anti-racism messages and the love of a mother for her children are powerful, important ones for readers. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Author Toni Morrison is the first African American to win the Nobel Prize for literature, and this book was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Her work challenges readers to think about slavery's impact, as well as how racism and injustice continue to shape African-American identity.

Violence

Several beatings, a strangulation, and a scene in which a desperate mother murders her own infant with a handsaw rather than have her returned to slavery. There are also scenes of sexual violence, including forced fellatio, a man holding down a nursing woman while another man suckles her breast, and references to men having sex with cattle.    

Sex

Characters have sex, including Beloved, who has sex with Sethe's lover, Paul D., and becomes pregnant. 

Language

Lots of

racial slurs and some other swear words (like "goddamn"). 

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

One or two brief scenes of alcohol use by adults.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is on many high school required reading lists because it's a classic that will leave a lasting imprint on readers. It's true that Beloved is the 26th book on the American Library Association's Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books for 2000-2009 and has been challenged for its violence, sexuality, and more: It features a gritty infanticide, racial language, horrific sexual assaults, and even references to sex with animals. But teens are mature enough to handle the challenges this book presents. At this age they can decide for themselves what they think about disturbing personal and historical events.  Beloved is a beautiful, powerful book that will help all readers learn about the horrors of slavery -- and leave them thinking about what it means to be a strong, heroic, or moral person.

Wondering if Beloved is OK for your kids?

Set preferences and get age-appropriate recommendations with Common Sense Media Plus. Join now

Continue reading Show less

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byAnkit m. October 19, 2017

A must read

For all those people who all are saying that this is a total trash, has grotesque imagery, too much sex,too much violence, pedophile, incest etc etc ......

Th... Continue reading
Parent of an infant and 4-year-old Written byTerreece Clarke April 9, 2008

A Classic...

Yes it contains intense scenes and emotion. Slavery was intense and inhumane and all together crap. Often it is glossed over with sweeping mansions and magnolia... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written byenglishlover April 4, 2017

To those who think Beloved is 'trash'

You are wrong. I am a high school student arguing in my AP Lang class that Beloved should be taught in school. Beloved was in fact BASED OFF OF the true accou... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written byave129 May 11, 2020

Emotional, dark, but amazing read.

This novel is very intense and definitely has some dark subject matter, but it includes some very real issues from the past. Toni Morrison wrote it beautifully,... Continue reading

What's the story?

Sethe is an ex-slave who chooses to kill her children rather than allow her family to be captured back into slavery. She succeeds in killing only her second youngest, who later returns to haunt the house in which the family lives -- first in ethereal form and then as a woman calling herself Beloved. The novel takes place primarily in the years after the Civil War, though it often flashes back to the time of slavery. The story moves seamlessly back and forth through time, capturing Sethe's girlhood, her time on the plantation, and the lives of the various secondary characters. When Paul D. arrives and begins helping them see a way past their pain, Beloved's presence becomes all the more vivid.

Is it any good?

This a difficult and often gruesome book, but there's a reason it was awarded the Pulitzer Prize: It's a masterful work by one of the best storytellers alive today. In Beloved, Morrison not only will help readers connect to a painful part of American history, but she'll also encourage them to struggle with some difficult subjects, including the possible heroism of a woman who murders her own child.

This is a book whose intention is to disturb: Teen readers might have to grapple a bit with the complex storytelling, as well as with the intense subject matter, but that's sometimes the best way to confront difficult subjects. Parents may want consider reading this classic along with their kids and using our discussion ideas to tackle the difficult topics it raises.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why this book is on the ALA's banned/challenged books list. What do some people find so threatening? Do you agree with them? The book is meant to be disturbing -- but is that ever a reason to ban a book?

  • This book provides excellent opportunities to talk about slavery, as well as racism and injustice, even as they exist today. In the context of the book, were the ex-slaves truly "free"?

  • This book is often on high school and college reading lists -- why does slavery continue to be an essential topic to study?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love books about the African-American experience

Top advice and articles

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate