A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
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?
For kids who love sci-fi
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