Slaughterhouse-Five

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Slaughterhouse-Five Book Poster Image
Vonnegut's time-travel classic best for mature teen readers.
Popular with kidsParents recommend

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 15 reviews

A lot or a little?

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

Educational value

Readers will learn about the bombing of Dresden in WWII, among other historical facts. This book can also open up a number of topics, including why it remains a classic decades after publication. Teens and their parents can use Random House's Teacher's Guide to delve more deeply into the plot.

Positive messages

Billy Pilgrim embodies man's humanity in an innocent way as he allows a seemingly neutral perspective on the story's events. Little judgment is passed as we are allowed insight into the suffering of both sides. Even the antagonists in the novel demonstrate a positive message: Self-righteousness - whether possessed by an individual or an entire nation - is often at root of most wars and disputes. This, in turn, may encourage humility and thoughtfulness among readers.

Positive role models & representations

Billy is an innocent along the lines of Forrest Gump or Huck Finn. He's an observer, and through him readers can see -- and discuss -- man's inhumanity to man through a morally neutral lens. Billy, a character carried by destiny rather than action, demonstrates the significance of perspective as he places no real value or judgment on the events throughout the story.

Violence

This is a book that came out of the author's experience of the horrors of war, so the violence should be seen in that context. A man is crushed by an elevator, many die in war and bombings (examples of the horrors of war), an iron maiden is described, mention of torture methods, description of the killing of a dog.

Sex

Mentions of condoms, pornographic pictures, nocturnal emissions, intercourse, erections, masturbation, oral sex.

Language

Some swearing, including "s--t," "f--k," and "motherf--ker." There are some uses of ethnic slurs and undertones of sexism as well.

Consumerism
Drinking, drugs & smoking

Some drinking and drunkenness and smoking cigarettes. Billy's damaged mental state forces hospital workers to subdue him with morphine. Infidelity is also prompted alcohol consumption in this story.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Slaughterhouse-Five has become one of the great cult classics of all time. The main character belongs in the same class as Forrest Gump or Huck Finn; he's an innocent witness to history. The novel was originally written for adults and, though not particularly graphic, has sexual, violent, and explicit language content. That said, it's no different than your average teen novel of today and is a great intro to Kurt Vonnegut's work for mature teen readers.

User Reviews

Adult Written byDominicboo1 February 5, 2014

Satirical Yet Unentertaining

This book is a mess. Not one word makes sense, and it's overly repetitive. YOU CAN"T DRINK A GLASS OF WATER WITHOUT IT BEING A SYMBOL! I get the purpo... Continue reading
Parent Written bySerenityFish November 1, 2013

Amazing book :)

I read Slaughterhouse 5 when I was 11 and from then on, I had a period when I read only Kurt Vonnegut Jr's works. It's great, but it may be hard to un... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byUmmmmm... August 1, 2009
Teen, 13 years old Written bylecritic February 5, 2009

Awesome

This is the greatest book of all time!!!!! You have to read this!!!!!!

What's the story?

The protagonist of SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE, Billy Pilgrim, is unanchored in time and jumps around to different points in his own life. This happens often and is beyond his control. He goes from his birth and childhood to the moment of his death. In between, he's a successful optometrist in Ilium, New York; the sole survivor of a plane crash; and a captive in a zoo on the planet Tralfamadore, where he's mated to an earthling porn star, Montana Wildhack. Jumping around to all of these places finally leads Billy to the pivotal event of his life: As a young chaplain's assistant in World War II, he is captured by the Germans and is present for the apocalyptic firebombing of Dresden.

Is it any good?

One of the all-time great opening lines in literature begins what is surely one of the strangest meditations on war. A cult favorite for decades, this mixture of adult historical war novel and science fiction -- all leavened with the blackest of black humor -- is very accessible to teens. For late, great author Kurt Vonnegut, writing this was a kind of therapy. He was present at the Dresden firebombing, and those parts of the novel are based on his own experiences. But it took him a quarter of a century to bring himself to write it (the first chapter is really an Author's Note about how he finally came to do so), and he approaches that traumatic event gingerly, circling around it, holding it at a distance with humor and a matter-of-fact tone that fails to cover the pain.

Billy is one of those lucky literary doofuses -- like Huck Finn, Chauncey Gardiner, and Forrest Gump. He zings back and forth through his life with enough spacey cluelessness that even finding himself on another planet barely fazes him. Or perhaps it isn't cluelessness but a sort of Tralfamadorian Zen acceptance of each moment. Whichever, it makes him an appealing blank through whom the reader, and the author, can look at some of the horrendous things that human beings do to one another.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why Slaughterhouse-Five is still popular decades after it was first published. What makes a book a classic?

  • This book was written for adults but is often read by high school students. Why does it appeal to teen readers? What separates a young adult book from an adult book -- or a children's book?

Book details

For kids who love sci-fi

Our editors recommend

Top advice and articles

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality and learning potential.

Learn how we rate