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