Book review by
Terreece Clarke, Common Sense Media
Playground Book Poster Image
Rap star's moving novel about a bully redeemed.

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

This book effectively shows some of the ways bullies are created. It also offers valuable insight into how to combat and reverse the bully mentality by showing Butterball's transition from budding bully back to being a good kid.

Positive Messages

No matter how bad a situation seems, no matter how much trouble someone has gotten into or caused, kids have the ability to make positive choices, atone for mistakes, and turn their situations around. There's also the message that kids should not be afraid to open up when they are having trouble (such as dealing with bullies, teasing, feelings of isolation, etc.). The very act of opening up opens the door for fresh perspective and solutions.  

Positive Role Models & Representations

Surprisingly, Butterball ends up being a positive role model because of the way he turns himself around and begins to head down a positive path once he gets through a very rough patch in life. His therapist, Liz, his mother, her partner, and even his friend Maurice (a victim of Butterball's bullying) show admirable qualities. Liz helps Butterball learn how to open up and talk through his feelings. His mom and her partner try to set a reasonable example for him as they take steps to improve their lives in the absence of his rather distant and irresponsible father. Maurice shows empathy, tolerance, and loyalty to Butterball before he becomes the victim of Butterball's misplaced rage.


There are few descriptions of violence, but scenes where kids are preparing for violence are intense. There is a scary beating with a battery-filled sock, and an attempt at a second battery-sock assault that backfires. Following that attempt a group of kids carries out a revenge beating. And there are several smaller instances of bullying and intimidation.


The story contains quite a bit of foul language. Butterball curses around his friends, his therapist, and occasionally around his parents. His friends, therapist, and parents also swear often. 


Several references to name brand merchandise and products, including, Nike, Snickers, Macintosh (Apple), Panasonic, and Honda. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

There are a few references to alcohol consumption, particularly in and around a party. Kids are seen having and drinking beer and showing obvious signs of intoxication.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Playground, the first novel by the popular rapper 50 Cent, is loosely based on his own experience and contains many references to bullying and sexual orientation. There is quite a bit of foul language and several instances of children being insubordinate or disrespectful to parents and other adult authority figures. This book shows the kinds of forces that create bullies and very even handedly shows its central figure, Butterball, being bullied and bullying others. 

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byJenniferB 1 January 17, 2018
I grabbed this on a whim for my school's library, but after skimming a few pages I set it aside and hadn't yet decided to put it out for students. Unt... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written bymamoochiemilo February 6, 2012

Don't pay attention to the bad language

this book is one of the best i have ever read. Just because it swears,it still has a good message and besides that is part of teaches tweens not to bull... Continue reading

What's the story?

Thirteen-year-old Butterball has very few friends at his new junior high school. He feels out of place, socially awkward, and is teased or ignored by many of his peers. His mother and father have separated and he blames her for everything that's going wrong in his life while elevating his irresponsible, verbally abusive father to hero status. Everything begins to change when Butterball attacks his one of his only friends, Maurice, and brutally beats him on the playground, fearing that Maurice had told people about his mother's lesbian partner, Evelyn. Now, he's meeting with a therapist every week and being forced to own up to and work out his feelings, so they can get to the bottom of why he would do such a thing. Butterball is also dealing with his new status at school -- as a bully, rather than just a \"nerdy kid\" -- and trying to find the best way to get next to a very friendly, very pretty girl he likes at school. What direction will Butterball's life ultimately take? Will he live the rest of his life as a superhero or a villain?

Is it any good?

The author, rapper 50 Cent, made the right choice when deciding to tell the story from Butterball's perspective. It allows readers to understand the main character's motivation, pain, anger, frustration, and insecurities while keeping them tuned into his sense of humor and desire to be a good person. We can both empathize with Butterball's plight and be infuriated by his naivete and foolishness.

The story gives a pretty even-handed account of how bullies like Butterball are often created -- through poor treatment by other bullies and, in his case, poor examples set by authority figures. Butterball is an engaging character and an excellent storyteller, with a great, dry sense of humor. Readers will find it difficult to put the book down. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about peer pressure, bullying, and the need to feel acceptance among one's peers. How do kids deal with pressure from others at school? How important is gaining acceptance among one's classmates and other kids? Is bullying common in your school, or in your neighborhood? See our tips on dealing with bullies.

  • Families can also talk about what makes a family. Why was Butterball worried about his classmates finding out about his mother? Do you know of anyone with gay parents? What other types of families are in your school and neighborhood?

  • Is bullying common in your school or neighborhood? Are you being bullied? Have you ever acted like a bully? Do you have someone you trust to talk about your feelings? Why is it important to step in when you see someone else being bullied?

Book details

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