A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
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?
For kids who love books about the African-American experience
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