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Bless the Beasts & Children



Misfit teens rebel at a Western summer camp in YA classic.

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Main characters run away from camp, steal cars, drink whisky, shoot out tires, smoke cigars, and illegally free the buffalo. Other characters cruelly mistreat them. Describes a Jewish comedian and his son in stereotypical fashion, but maintains sympathy with the son.


Graphic, disturbing description of shooting buffalo.




Mild to moderate swearing of all types.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Bless the Beasts and the Children is a young-adult classic about six misfits in a Western summer camp who defy heartless authority. The novel is distinguished by superb writing, and many young readers will enjoy the teens' rebellious acts. But others may find it too slow-moving and literary for their taste. The boys -- the only characters with real compassion -- defy authority and break rules and laws, but come full circle to do good.

Parents say

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What's the story?

Six misfit boys in a Western summer camp, where even the counselors ridicule them, are forced to witness a bloody slaughter of buffalo. They steal horses, ride to town, then steal a car and make their way 100 miles to a buffalo reserve during the night to free the remaining beasts. The decision they make changes their lives. The book alternates between scenes from the boys' adventure and from their difficult home lives.


Is it any good?


This much-loved novel of teen rebellion has become one of the classics of young-adult literature. Written as a rebuttal to William Golding's Lord of the Flies, according to the author's son in his introduction, this is a disturbing but ultimately uplifting book. The boys in this book don't degenerate into beasts, as in Lord of the Flies. Instead, they liberate the beasts and themselves, though their leader sacrifices himself to accomplish that goal.

Glendon Swarthout's often-poetic prose elevates the kids' quest into an epic, and his descriptions of the boys and their trials become almost hypnotic. Some see it as a Christian allegory. However, most teens reading for enjoyment will want to skip the lengthy reader's supplement in the back of the book, which provides school-like discussion questions. Readers interested primarily in literary quality may find the supplement useful.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about misfits. How are misfits treated in the camp? Are they treated similarly in the outside world? 

  • Why are books about summer camp so popular? 

  • Have you ever felt like a misfit? Why? What did you do in that situation?

Book details

Author:Glendon Swarthout
Topics:Cars and trucks, Adventures, Friendship, Horses and farm animals, Misfits and underdogs, Wild animals
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Pocket Books
Publication date:January 1, 1970
Number of pages:189
Publisher's recommended age(s):12 - 17

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Teen, 14 years old Written byTeenMediaReviews February 15, 2011

Excellent for young teens

A great read for teenagers. Important morals are learned throughout the book such as parental neglect, friendship, responsibility, fitting in, masculinity and helplessness. However, the book may be difficult for children under 13 to understand. The setting is in 1960s and language can be confusing to you readers. Some concerns were violence (the book starts with an intense bloody dream scene, the boys use a gun, the boys are tied to a tree) sexual references (the counselor has a sex magazine collection) bad role models (under-age drinking/smoking, the councelor treats the boys badly, boys are teased, one boy steals and hot-wires a car) and language (frequent use of "d*mn, h*ll. One use of "b*tch" and several other derogatory terms. I had to read this book for school, 8th grade language arts, I found it interesting and started a lot of discussions. It teaches a good lesson and is helpful to young teenagers to understand why people do what they do.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Great messages


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