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Life of Pi

Fascinating survival tale with animal facts, gory detail.
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What parents need to know

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

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."

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

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

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."

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.

Families can talk 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?

Book details

Author:Yann Martel
Genre:Literary Fiction
Topics:Ocean creatures, Science and nature, Wild animals
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:September 11, 2001
Number of pages:336

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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 some blood, but honestly it's nothing to be concerned about, there is only one scene that is gory. I think it is very interesting to hear about Pi's different religions, and how that faith helped keep him alive for so long. I found this book very well written, and a captivating read. I can't wait for the movie!
What other families should know
Educational value
Great role models
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, but certaintly more stomachable than any other books about the Holocaust.
What other families should know
Educational value
Too much violence
Teen, 16 years old Written byAgentBartowski June 29, 2012

Violent, vibrant adventure tale is not to be missed

Though it is bloody in places, Life of Pi is a brilliantly written, captivated adventure tale, told through the eyes of one of the most likable characters I have ever encountered in fiction. The fascinating detail Martel goes into concerning zoology and religion serves to make the book educational as well, though never in a preachy manner.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence