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On the Road
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Jack Kerouac's seminal 1957 novel On the Road is about two friends, Sal and Dean (based on the author and his friend Neal Cassady), who travel around the United States and Mexico, experiencing life fueled and heightened by drugs, alcohol, and sex. This book is revered as the defining novel of the Beat Generation, a post-WWII cultural movement closely identified with jazz/be-bop music, drug and alcohol use, and other forms of artistic, intellectual, and personal experimentation. The novel, not surprisingly, includes numerous accounts of life on the edge involving drug and alcohol use, and in many ways glorifies substance abuse. Many sexual encounters are mentioned but not graphically described. There's also a fair amount of profanity used ("s--t," "sonofabitch," "dammit," "bastard," "c--k"), as well as outdated racial references ("negroes") and homophobic slurs ("fag," "fairy"). The novel was made into a film released in December 2012.
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What's the story?
Jack Kerouac's legendary novel ON THE ROAD chronicles the road trips of two friends, Sal and Dean (based on the author and Neal Cassady, respectively), who travel the United States and Mexico, experiencing a life fueled and heightened by drugs, alcohol, and sex. Revered as the defining novel of the Beat Generation -- a post-World War II alternative cultural movement closely identified with jazz, drug and alcohol use, and various other forms of experimentation -- On the Road describes Sal and Dean's world, their experiences and friendships, their struggles to find money and transportation, their drugged and drunken binges, and the tender and ecstatic feelings they have for humanity.
Is it any good?
Music and language, and the way Kerouac's writing grew from the sounds of jazz and be-bop, are even more important than the wild events in the novel. Kerouac's novel is an ecstatic literary masterpiece, in which nearly every sentence is worth reading over and over. This is a book that changed literary language, with rapid-fire phrases seeming to follow a syncopated musical rhythm. Yet, Kerouac's clarity is never given over for poetry; the author is ever a clear communicator even while he's accomplishing that rare feat of writing the way music sounds. but This novel glorifies drug and alcohol use, so it is not for immature readers. but for young adults with decent judgment and a love of language, On the Road is a must-read eye-opener.
Talk to your kids about ...
On the Road is considered the most important book representing the Beat Generation (a term coined by Jack Kerouac). What defined this cultural movement and the works that it inspired?
Why do you think Sal so drawn to Dean?
Learn more about the Beat Generation by reading works by Jack Kerouac's contemporaries, such as William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg.
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