Haunting Pulitzer Prize winner about slavery's impact.

What parents need to know

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

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.


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.    


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


Lots of

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

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

One or two brief scenes of alcohol use by adults.

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.

Families can talk 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

Author:Toni Morrison
Genre:Literary Fiction
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Vintage Books
Publication date:August 1, 1987
Number of pages:324

This review of Beloved was written by

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Adult Written bywinfall April 9, 2008

Pure Trash

This book contains incest, rape, pedophilia, graphic sex, extreme violence, sexual abuse, physical/emotional abuse, infanticide, and an extensive amount of profanity including lots of the F word. The scenes, ideas and thoughts are definitely for ADULTS. I presume the CSM reviewer called it "haunting" because it contains a ghost (who has lots of sex with her mother's boyfriend). There are so many good books available for kids, why read this trash?
Parent of a 17 year old Written byvaluegal April 11, 2011

only adults who know what they are getting into

This book gave me nightmares. the language is offensive and the theme is wrenching. If the bestiality and the infanticide are not enough how about forced oral sex in prison. What does it take to be to offensive?
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Teen, 17 years old Written byGiz_riod April 9, 2008


This is a great book overall.


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