Song of Solomon

Common Sense Media says

Brilliant but mature classic explores racism, gender, power.

Age(i)

2
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17

Quality(i)

 

What parents need to know

Educational value

Increasingly, Song of Solomon and other works by Morrison are showing up on high school and college reading lists. Like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, it provides the opportunity for readings at various levels; a teen may read it easily and understand a great deal, then come back to the book in college or as an adult and discover even more. Morrison does weave in historical facts into this novel that a teacher or parent may want to help readers sort out and learn more about; see Common Sense Media's "What to Talk About" section for other discussion ideas.

Positive messages

This is one man's thoughtful search for identity, a journey that takes him from selfishness to love.

Positive role models

Characters engage in promiscuity, theft, and even murder, but these behaviors have deeper meaning and will force readers to think about identity and power. In the end, the protagonist learns to be a more complete human being, learns how to love and respect others -- and takes control of his own life.

Violence

Suicide by jumping from a building, an attempted strangulation, a knife fight, and a shooting. Several real-life hate crimes are mentioned, including the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till and the murder of four African-American girls in an Alabama church bombing.

Sex

Intercourse and oral sex, sex between cousins, breastfeeding an older child, story of a woman lying naked in her bed with her dead father implying incest (though she claims this to be untrue), mentions of teen sex and prostitution.

Language

Language is frequently sexually suggestive and includes racial epithets and graphic trash-talking, including mentions of sodomy and forced penetration.

Consumerism
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Some alcohol use, including underage drinking. The main character smokes and his aunt makes and sells wine illegally.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this book is, at times, both violent and sexually explicit, and includes graphic language and allusions to incest. It deals with slavery and racism, and even includes references to several real-life hate crimes, including the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till and the murder of four African-American girls in an Alabama church bombing. It's a masterful identity story that will leave teens with a lot to think about in terms of race, gender, power, and identity.  It's a rich but intense book, and older teen readers need to be capable of handling the book's explicit passages maturely.

Parents say

Kids say

What's the story?

Macon \"Milkman\" Dead III is a spoiled young man who is loved by all and loves no one in return. He is the child of a prominent if dysfunctional black family in a small Michigan town, who remains blissfully unconcerned with the turbulence in his family, his community, and the world. In seeking out his family's heritage, however, he discovers his own ignorance and tragically renews his sense of self.

Is it any good?

QUALITY
 

SONG OF SOLOMON is American literature at its finest, and its beauty and complexity are simply awe-inspiring. Toni Morrison deftly interweaves past and present, and the slow discovery of the history of Milkman's people carefully reveals where he has gone wrong in his own life, as well as what he must do now. Morrison's firm grasp of recurring themes and images pulls readers in with all of the suspense of a popular mystery, then carefully mines the depths of the human condition, exploring the ways in which families differ and evolve, how we treat those we love and those who love us, the nature of liberty, and man's place in society. Teens will appreciate the challenge of tackling such a complex novel, empathize with Milkman's search for identity, and be left with plenty to think about and discuss. Some may dwell on the sex, violence, and language, but students who have trouble relating to typical English class fare often find it to be the first assigned book they truly sink their teeth into and actually enjoy. 

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the fact that this book is on the Radcliffe Publishing Course's Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century -- and also one of 46 books on that list to be banned or challenged. Why do you think so many books on the list are controversial? Who has a right to decide what you should (or shouldn't) read?

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  • This book is often picked for school reading lists. Why do you think that is? Why do we have reading lists? Is it only about exploring the literature itself -- or is it also important for classrooms and communities to have shared stories to reference?

Book details

Author:Toni Morrison
Genre:Literary Fiction
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Random House
Publication date:August 12, 1977
Number of pages:352
Read aloud:17
Read alone:17

This review of Song of Solomon was written by

About our rating system

  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Quality

Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging, great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging, good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging, good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging, okay learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Adult Written byslmillen@aol.com April 9, 2008
AGENot rated for age
QUALITY
 

Beware of This Book!!

I'm very surprised and disappointed by the review by Common Sense Media (CSM), which is usually a very reliable and decent website. I was astonished when I read this review. Song of Solomon (which has NOTHING to do with the book in the Bible) contains the kind of graphic profanity, unnatural sex and other content that would only be appropriate for OVER-21. Disturbingly, it also projects a very unrealistic and unwholesome image of African Americans, as well as an overall "soap opera-ish" feel. Shame on CSM!
Adult Written byaprilmay April 9, 2008
AGENot rated for age
QUALITY
 

Not "prurient" only "lascivious"

The commonsense.org review is a regurgitation from the extremely liberal NCTE rather than an application of common sense that you claim to provide. For example, your review says that the book contains "allusions to incest." Did the writer of this review not realize that the lead character, Milkman, gets his very nickname from his incestuous relationship to his mother while breastfeeding as a young boy? Or that he also has an ongoing sexual relationship with his cousin as a teenager? Also, some of what is said in this review doesn't make any sense at all, never mind COMMON SENSE. For example, exactly how should "older teen readers" be able to "move beyond" the new knowledge that (according to Toni Morrison's novels), blacks have regular sexual relationships with children, other members of their family, and even animals? Your review further states that the "human spirit soars, literally and metaphorically." Would this be in reference to the suicide at the beginning or end of the book? Futhermore, your review states that the sex is not "prurient." Yet the types of sex include: - Breast feeding a boy (not a baby, not a toddler) for pleasure - sex with dead people - oral sex - discussions of sexual relations between a daughter and father - descriptions of foreplay and undressing - teen sex at 16 with multiple partners - fantasies of sex between a mother and her son - sex with whores - sex between cousins - anal sex - oral sex between men - sex using objects forced into each other - discussions of sex with various animals and plants Many professional reviews of Morrison identify her work as "lascivious." "Lascivious" is a synonym for "prurient." Since when did even one description of deviant, perverted sex become "brilliant" literature for minors???
Adult Written byCJames April 9, 2008
AGENot rated for age
QUALITY
 

Homeschool

This "book" is helping to solidify my families decision on whether to homeschool our second grade girl next year. We are such a debased culture now that this pornography is gleefully peddled to our teenagers. Why a woman would want to propagate stereotypes about her own race on so many levels I do not know! Why is there such an infatuation with suicide? I thought our teenagers needed hope and direction because the suicide rate is so high for them. I will be talking to my son's principal about this garbage and I pray that this school can actually find something of literary value to have the kids read next time!

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