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Life of Pi

Book review by
Barbara Schultz, Common Sense Media
Life of Pi Book Poster Image
Fascinating survival tale with animal facts, gory detail.
Popular with kids

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 26 reviews

A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Pi, the main character of Yann Martel's Life of Pi, shares a wealth of detailed information on a variety of topics: zookeeping, animal behavior, survival techniques, and religious beliefs and practices of Catholics, Muslims, and Hindi. However, Pi is a somewhat unreliable narrator, and a lot of what he explains about wild animals falls into the "Don't try this at home" category.

Positive Messages

The strongest message of Yann Martel's unusual novel is one of survival and the value of life. Though Pi, a lifelong vegetarian, must kill all manner of creatures to survive, the author never treats these events lightly. Pi is ever driven by his will to live and his inclusive, multi-religious love of God.

Positive Role Models & Representations

In Part 1 of Life of Pi, young Pi is guided by his parents and three religious teachers. His father uses a fairly shocking method to teach his sons to respect wild animals, but his motives are well-intentioned. Pi's mother is affectionate and protective. Pi gets to know a Catholic priest as well as leaders in the Hindu and Muslim faiths. He is moved by all of their teachings, and incorporates ideas from all three religions into his own belief system. Pi is also close to some of his schoolteachers, from whom he learns valuable academic and life lessons.


Whether or not Pi's survival stories are to be believed, they are extremely violent and graphic. The narrator uses elaborate detail to describe wild animals killing and eating each other, and humans killing and eating animals. The book also includes acts of murder and cannibalism.


Early in the book, Pi describes the sexual behavior of zoo animals.


Pi, whose real name is Piscine (the French word for swimming pool), is teased by other children, who call him "Pissing."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Pi says that some crew members aboard the cargo ship have been drinking alcohol.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Yann Martel's novel Life of Pi is the story an Indian zookeeper's son, who survives a shipwreck. Though Pi generally describes his many days at sea as monotonous, he also describes the sexual behavior of zoo animals and relates tales of danger and survival with great tension, using elaborate detail to describe wild animals killing and eating each other and humans killing and eating animals. The novel also includes acts of murder and cannibalism. This is a gory book, no question, and not recommended for the squeamish. Parents might also note that Pi forms his own belief system from the teachings of the Catholic, Hindu, and Muslim religions, saying that he simply wants to "love God."

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written bynetkabuki August 25, 2012

What if Gerald Durrell wrote the Hunger Games? It would be Life of Pi

The book starts out promisingly enough by setting up the conflict between the worlds major religions: why does each religion think it alone is the best way and... Continue reading
Adult Written bydclaborn October 13, 2016

Agree w/ the site, this is for older readers

Read this book with my son as he was assigned it in class. He's 12. Although it's an amazing book to which I give 5 stars on goodreads, the shocking... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old November 17, 2012

Great Book

I thought Life of Pi was a great book. Pi is a great character, and his struggle to survive and learn to live with Richard Parker is an amazing story. There is... Continue reading
Teen, 15 years old Written bysoccergirl97 July 4, 2012

A Good Read, Gore Involved

Overall, a good read. Has some educational values, in that the reader learns about different religion and life for an average boy living in India. Much gore, bu... Continue reading

What's the story?

Yann Martel's novel LIFE OF PI is the story of Piscine Molitor Patel, who likes to be called \"Pi\" because children made fun of his name, calling him \"Pissing\" when he was a boy. Pi grows up in India with his brother, Ravi, his mom, and his dad, who runs a zoo. As a boy, Pi struggles with the identity issues connected with his name and with his personal belief system. He visits leaders of three different religions, and joins the Catholic, Hindu, and Muslim faiths. When Pi's parents decide to move their family to Canada, the Patels board a Japanese cargo ship that will take them and some of the zoo animals to North America. However, disaster strikes the ship and Pi must battle for survival. Most of the book is a narration of Pi's time at sea. The film adaptation of Life of Pi is scheduled for Nov. 21, 2012, release.

Is it any good?

Life of Pi is a fascinating and original story of survival and identity. Martel creates a wonderfully realized, clever character in Pi, and a unique world of home, zoo, school, and various houses of various gods. The bit where all three religious figures realize that Pi has joined their faith is quite funny, and so wise. Readers have come to love Pi by the time his ship sinks, and every terrifying, bloody struggle he faces is met with intelligence and frought with tension. This is a smart, absorbing novel, although, given its gory descriptions, not a book to be enjoyed with a meal.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the lesson Pi's father teaches his sons with the tiger and the goat. Why is this important in Life of Pi, and how does this experience affect Pi's ability to survive in the lifeboat?

  • Which of Pi's stories do you believe?

  • What do you make of Pi's religious inclusiveness? Does it make sense to you? Can people believe in more than one faith?

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