A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Explores issues from colonialism and Victorian class structure to the exploitation of indigenous people, animals, plants, and resources. Even before he develops the ability to converse with many animals, protagonist Marlin has a lot of knowledge about their habits and needs.
Kindness, compassion, courage, and perseverance are important, as is trying to figure out the right thing to do -- and then doing it.
Positive Role Models
Marlin deals with many ethical struggles, mostly involving conflicting duties (for example, when his father orders him to do something he knows is wrong) and is sometimes prevented from doing what he thinks is right. The jaguar who befriends him is a complex character, given to thought-provoking remarks, such as, "A jaguar eats his fill and leaves the rest for scavengers. A man would lock up the world for himself and let it rot." Young tourist Olivia befriends Marlin and tries to help, with limited success. Marlin's older brother is a bully; his father is an adventurer who cares more for the success of his grand vision than for the consequences. Other adult characters are greedy, snobbish, and nasty.
Violence & Scariness
Many a kid (and adult) will be especially upset by a scene in which a baby animal, the last in a litter that's being fed to a snake, asks Marlin where his brothers and sisters have gone. As the story begins, a jaguar is blamed for the death of a Zoo worker, but someone or something else may have done the deed. Humans and animals are sometimes killed or injured by other humans or animals.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
There's a strong attraction between 12-year-olds Olivia and Marlin, and one kiss, but the romance doesn't get far.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
In the climactic scene, Marlin's father gets drunk on gin.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that in The Zoo at the Edge of the World, 12-year-old Marlin converses with the animals in his father's zoo as he tries to protect his loved ones and struggles to do the right thing. There's enough violence and other darkness here to be upsetting to sensitive readers, with lots of bullying, a father throwing his son in a cage, and a difficult scene involving a snake and a cute baby animal.
Is It Any Good?
The Bully Book author Eric Kahn Gale returns with a heartfelt, uneven book that may try to do too much. It's a coming-of-age tale of a stuttering kid overshadowed by a larger-than-life parent and a bullying brother, now forced to question everything he thought was true; the toxic legacy of colonialism; the ethics of exploiting animals for human gain, whether for greed or "the greater good"; and -- oh, yeah -- a bit of first love with an aristocratic girl whose parents definitely have other ideas for her. Parts of the story are almost painfully compelling, whereas others feel like a slapdash attempt to connect an assortment of themes. Many kids will relate to Marlin's struggles to protect his loved ones while rising above his disability and his toxic family and cheer him on as he finds courage to do the right thing. Animal-loving kids may find some scenes involving cute, vulnerable, doomed critters especially upsetting.
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.