The Pearl

Book review by
Barbara Schultz, Common Sense Media
The Pearl Book Poster Image
Beautiful folk tale explores good and evil in human nature.

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 19 reviews

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A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

The Pearl is based on a Mexican folk tale that the author first heard around 1940. Though it creates a well-formed, fictional world of poor pearl divers living on corncakes and beans in brush huts in Baja, California, it is foremost meant as a parable for human nature, for good or bad. As a teaching tool, The Pearl, makes an excellent introduction to literary analysis, as middle- and high school-aged students can easily understand what the pearl comes to represent for Kino and his family.

Positive Messages

In the novel, the pearl itself symbolizes man's nature -- his propensity toward greed, and the struggle between good and evil. The moral of this retold folk tale seems to say that no good can come from man's desire for money or even from a desire to change his lot in life. It's a dubious, and some would say un-American message, but even so, Kino and Juana's love for one another is beautiful and just as valuable as the pearl.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Though the story suggests that Kino is tempting fate by trying to better his family, he is a loving, devoted husband and father, and Juana is a wonderful wife and mother. The relationship between husband and wife is thoroughly unmodern, but their love for each other and for their son, Cayotito, is a beautiful thing.


Thieves attack and try to rob Kino a number of times in The Pearl, and he strikes back violently. The author describes Kino stabbing and killing a robber, and much more violence involving knives and guns occurs later when trackers pursue Kino and his family into the mountains.


The story centers on Kino's discovery of the precious pearl and his efforts to sell it in hopes of bettering his family. The Pearl is full of thieves, cheats, and violence, all surrounding the money that an entire community imagines to be attached to the pearl.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Pearl is Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck's interpretation of a Mexican folk story in which a poor pearl diver's life is changed by the discovery of a very large gem. This short novel makes an excellent introduction to literary criticism, as the author's use of symbolism is fairly simple for teen readers to analyze and understand. However, the message put forth by the book -- that man invites evil by trying to better his situation -- invites a lot of questions. Also, gender roles in the book are very old-fashioned, as the story offers a portrayal of poor, uneducated Mexican people as simple folk who live unquestioningly, as generations before them have lived.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byBrandon V. March 1, 2017

Brandon's Review

A Mexican baby got bit by a scorpion and the mother asked for a doctor, the only strange thing was that she never asked for help. When she came to a doctor and... Continue reading
Adult Written byJuan P. October 20, 2016

Th Pearl

This is a really good book for ages 11+ because it has a really good conflict about the pearl. Like his father and grandfather before him, Kino is a diver, gath... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written bywordswagger June 27, 2019

Boring & Depressing

I've been told that this book is a beautiful, lyrical classic. This book was so boring I could barely read it without falling asleep every 5 minutes. It wa... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old June 30, 2016

Terrible in my opinion

It really just dragged on in my opinion. Normally you can't drag me out of a book once I've started it, but I had to use sheer willpower to get throug... Continue reading

What's the story?

A pearl diver named Kino and his wife, Juana, live with their only child, Cayotito, in a brush hut near the sea in Baja, California. Cayotito becomes ill, but Kino and Juana do not have the money to pay for a doctor's care. Kino prays that he will find a pearl large enough to exchange for the money to get Cayotito the help he needs. When he finds the \"pearl of the world,\" however, evil forces threaten him and his precious family.

Is it any good?

Steinbeck's retelling of this Mexican folk tale, The Pearl, is beautiful and lyrical. The author uses evocative language to describe Kino's world and his emotional journey. In this novel, every feeling and every important part of Kino and Juana's world has a "song" that the characters "sing" to each other and hear in their hearts -- the song of evil, the song of family, the song of hope. It's a simple story, told with power and poetry by one of America's all-time greatest novelists.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the moral suggested by The Pearl -- that a man lets evil in by trying to change his life. Was Kino wrong to keep the pearl? Is Kino a good man? What, if anything, should he have done differently?

  • What does the pearl represent in the book?

  • Gender roles in The Pearl are very old fashioned, with Juana baking corncakes and tending Cayotito while Kino dives for pearls. How do you feel about the husband/wife relationship here?

  • Why do you think this book is considered a classic, and why do you think it's required reading for so many students?

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