A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
This controversial book lends itself to some great discussions about mature books for teens. See our "Families Can Talk About" section for some ideas. Some readers may be interested in pursuing other retold fairy tales -- while other may be inspired to learn more about how abuse victims cope with traumatic events.
The main characters ultimately learn to cope with the real world and the people in it, who can be both terrible and wonderful.
Positive Role Models
The main character and her children may be inspirational to readers, for they do ultimately come back to the real world where, as it says in the book's description, "beauty and brutality lie side by side."
Violence & Scariness
This book includes intense violence: A girl is repeatedly raped by her father and later gang raped by a group of teens. When those teens are grown, each is brutally sodomized in revenge. In other disturbingly violent scenes, a girl contemplates killing her newborn baby by bashing the baby's brains out against a tree and throwing her off a cliff, a man is mauled to death by a bear, and much more.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Lots of graphic material, beginning with the book's opening scene, which describes sex between a witch and a dwarf. The book also includes bestiality and a graphic depiction of bears mating while a girl watches. Also references to an erection, orgasm, masturbation, prostitution, etc.
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Some, including "slut" and "feck."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Some drinking and drunkenness, though certainly not glamorized in any way.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this award-winning book has garnered criticism for its intense material, including a protagonist who is repeatedly raped by her father and gang raped by other teens. There is also sodomy, bestiality, and graphic depictions of a miscarriage, a mauling, and more. Yet this book has also earned a great deal of praise for its masterful writing. Mature readers who make it through will have plenty to think about, including whether any topic is ever off limits for children, teen, or adult readers.
Is It Any Good?
It's no wonder this book has earned so much attention, including both awards and sharp criticism: It's both an amazing work of literature and incredibly intense. In an interview with suite101.com, the author says that the book would be too much for adults who are feeling fragile ("You need to be feeling resilient to take on the first part, particularly," she said).
Still, mature readers up for a challenge will find a complex but expertly constructed novel that's highly emotional and thought provoking. Parents and teachers guiding older teen readers could talk to them about a wide variety of topics, from the psychology of survival to book censorship and more. Our discussion guide can get you started, or look at Random House's Teacher Guide for ideas about delving more deeply into this often dark book.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.