A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that an enthralling story and perfectly tuned language has made this a classic. Beautiful language conveys Philip's journey overcoming his family's racism. The book also gives details of survival and World War II.
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What's the story?
Philip, a white boy, and Timothy, an old black man, must survive together on a desert island after their ship is torpedoed and Philip is blinded. But with Timothy's wise guidance, Philip learns to survive without sight, and to grow beyond his parents' racism. When a U-boat torpedoes the ship on which he is traveling with his mother, eleven-year-old Philip wakes to find himself on a raft with Timothy, an old black man who worked on the ship. Suffering from a blow to the head, Philip soon loses his sight as well. Having learned racism at his mother's knee, Philip is contemptuous of Timothy, but is also completely dependent on him for survival. When they wash up on a desert island Timothy insists that Philip learn to do things for himself. Though he resents it, Philip has no choice but to go along. Gradually Philip begins to see past his screen of racism to recognize Timothy's great wisdom, compassion, and patience, and a powerful bond of love grows between them. But after Timothy suffers a bout with malaria, he realizes he must train Philip to survive on his own.
Is it any good?
This breathtaking and moving story is one of the great classics of children's literature. Much of the emotional impact of THE CAY comes from the richly developed character of Timothy and his paternal relationship with Philip, a basically good-hearted boy who must unlearn what he has been taught. Timothy is the father, or grandfather, everyone idealizes. He teaches Philip, and the reader, more by example than by overt instruction.
Part of the point of any survival novel is that the protagonist returns changed, having learned a kind of self-reliance that can't be learned in civilization, and that is certainly true here. But author Theodore Taylor makes it easy to see, and perfectly understandable, that Philip's life can never be the same after knowing Timothy. The force of his character is even greater than the impact of the survival experience.
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