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The Cay

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
The Cay Book Poster Image
Powerful shipwreck story has anti-racism message.
Parents recommendPopular with kids

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 7 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 48 reviews

A lot or a little?

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

Positive Role Models & Representations

In the beginning Philip is racist and spoiled, and treats Timothy with contempt, but he slowly changes and the novel reflects this growth.


Their ship is torpedoed. Timothy gives Philip a well-deserved slap. The destruction of the ship. Philip is left alone and blind on a desert island. Philip's blindness, Timothy's death.


Both characters are naked several times.


Once, very mild.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 11 year old Written byliznc August 1, 2010

Excellent story with a great lesson

I used this book in my 5th grade classroom and the students were riveted always begging for more. I love the transformation the characters go through. It has... Continue reading
Adult Written bydestinysucks May 11, 2012

Pretty Good

This book has a very good message for young adults. I think young children would find it boring but teens and adults would find it interesting. The cay shows th... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byLoverofLiterature December 4, 2010

This story is "outrageous"

I loved this story! This story is one of my favorites when I had to read it in school. To the teachers and/or school board, this book is highly educational (esp... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bytherealAlexMason March 20, 2011

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.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about trust.

  • Do you think Philip would have learned to trust Timothy if he hadn't become blind?

Book details

For kids who love adventures

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