Song of Solomon

Book review by
Brad Philipson, Common Sense Media
Song of Solomon Book Poster Image
Brilliant but mature classic explores racism, gender, power.

Parents say

age 18+
Based on 9 reviews

Kids say

age 15+
Based on 6 reviews

A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Increasingly, Song of Solomon and other works by Morrison are showing up on high school and college reading lists. As with 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 here, such as the murder of Emmett Till and the murders of four African-American girls in an Alabama church bombing, that a teacher or parent may want to help readers sort out and learn more about.

Positive Messages

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

Positive Role Models & Representations

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 murders 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), fantasies of sex between a mother and her son, 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
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

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

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon deals with slavery and racism and is at times both violent and sexually explicit, with graphic language and references to incest, as well as references to several real-life hate crimes, including the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till and the murders of four African-American girls in an Alabama church bombing. There's an attempted strangulation, a knife fight, a shooting, and a suicide by jumping from a building. This masterful novel will give teens a lot to think about in terms of race, gender, power, and identity. It's a rich but intense book, best for older teens capable of handling the explicit passages maturely.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byaprilmay April 9, 2008

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... Continue reading
Adult Written by[email protected] April 9, 2008

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... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written bySarahbriley December 1, 2011

This is a great book.

This book is wonderful. Although it may be filled with sex, incest, drugs, and violence, it is filled with amazing literary qualities. I honestly don't un... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written bycommon reviewer December 16, 2009

Cures Vanity

I think you are ridiculous if you are going to homeschool your child due to this book. Have you lived in the real world? Please, let's not be naieve. I thi... Continue reading

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 African-American family in a small Michigan town and 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?

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 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 a person'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 readers may dwell on the sex, violence, and language, but students who have trouble relating to typical English class fare often find this to be the first assigned book into which they truly sink their teeth and which they actually enjoy. 

Talk to your kids 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?

  •  

  • 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

For kids who love the African-American experience

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