The Cay

Book review by
Barbara Schultz, Common Sense Media
The Cay Book Poster Image
Popular with kidsParents recommend
Exciting shipwreck adventure has anti-racism message.

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 8 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 81 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Readers will learn about the island of Curacao, including colonization, flora and fauna, and involvement in World War II. Also ever-present in the novel are racial attitudes of the time.

Positive Messages

The more you get to know someone, the less their appearance matters.

Positive Role Models & Representations

When Philip meets Timothy, the boy's ideas about Black people are racist and immature. However, as the story unfolds, their friendship develops. Philip gradually becomes respectful, open-minded, and resourceful. Timothy is kind and resourceful and teaches Philip resilience and survival skills. 


The Cay takes place during World War II, and the island of Curacao -- where Phillip lives with his parents -- is under threat of attack. Phillip hears explosions. A ship carrying Phillip and his mother is torpedoed, and Phillip suffers a head injury. Phillip lashes out and hits Timothy. Timothy slaps Phillip after Phillip calls him "stupid" and an "ugly black man." 


Timothy says "Damn fool" once. Phillip calls Timothy "stupid" and an "ugly black man." 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Phillip's father smokes a pipe. Timothy talks about drinking "plenty rhum" during Carnival.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Theodore Taylor's adventure novel The Cay  is an exciting survival story that also addresses racist beliefs. Young Phillip Enright lives on the island of Cucacao with his parents. When World War II begins, the island is under threat of attack from the air and the sea. Phillip's mother decides to take him back to the United States for safety, but their ship is torpedoed and Phillip ends up stranded with an older Black man named Timothy. Fortunately for Phillip, Timothy is kind and resourceful. Their interdependence and friendship challenge the racist views Timothy had learned from his mother. Taking place during wartime, the novel includes real and threatened violence.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byTina_ishe January 14, 2019

Racist and insulting

I dont really care what this book has at the end but reading the 1st few pages as a black mother I find it insulting. My son came back from school in tears afte... Continue reading
Adult Written byhe went sicko mode November 25, 2019

rude about blacks

i dont like it as a black mother for them to say things like they say.
Teen, 13 years old Written byCrynt May 12, 2010

A great book not to be judged by its cover!

i actually enjoyed this book. i was assigned to read this book for a project at school and WAS NOT LOOKING FORWARD TO IT, but i am very impressed and satisfied... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old May 2, 2020

This is an AMAZING Book to Read!

Yeah, I was forced to read this book as part of class. However, I LOVED IT! The ending was pretty sad though (no spoilers for those of you who haven’t read it,)... Continue reading

What's the story?

THE CAY takes place on the Dutch island of Curacao during World War II. A young American boy, Phillip Enright, lives on the island with his parents, and he at first seems to imagine the war like a game. However, his mother is afraid for their safety and decides to take Phillip back to the United States, though Phillip's father believes the journey will not be safe. The ship that takes Phillip and his mother from the island is, in fact, torpedoed, and Phillip is separated from his mother. He finds himself stranded with a Black man named Timothy, who cares for Phillip and teaches him lessons in survival and resilience. The pair end up on a small cay (or key) on an unpopulated island, where they erect a shelter and catch fish to eat. As the two come to depend on each other to survive, racist ideas that Phillip inherited from his mother are challenged, and the two castaways -- now friends -- divide their efforts between sustaining themselves and trying to signal to any overhead aircraft that they need to be rescued.

Is it any good?

The emotional impact of this story comes from the carefully developed relationship between Timothy and Phillip, and the experiences that prompt Phillip to unlearn the racism he was taught. Timothy patiently teaches Philip, and the reader, by example, and Phillip is transformed physically and intellectually. The Cay is the best kind of survival novel, with a protagonist who triumphs over seemingly impossible and thrilling challenges, and emerges changed for the better. 


Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Phillip's friendship with Timothy in The Cay. How does Phillip view Timothy at first? How does their relationship change?

  • How do Phillip's ideas about war change from the beginning of the story?

  • Have you read other stories about sea adventures or shipwrecks, such as Robinson Crusoe or Treasure Island? How does The Cay compare to those stories?

Book details

  • Author: Theodore Taylor
  • Genre: Adventure
  • Topics: Adventures, Friendship, History
  • Book type: Fiction
  • Publisher: Puffin
  • Publication date: November 17, 1987
  • Publisher's recommended age(s): 10 - 14
  • Number of pages: 137
  • Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
  • Last updated: January 27, 2021

Our editors recommend

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