My first copy of Frankenstein was a graduation gift from my senior English teacher in high school. I read it on my own soon after (i.e., not as a class assignment), and I adored it. After reading The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, I decided it was time to read it again. I still love it, but in many ways I think the perfect audience is teenagers—around the age that Mary Shelley was when she wrote it—who are beginning to understand how complicated people, morality, ethics, and responsibility can be.

The text isn’t a particularly easy read—it’s a man writing a letter to his sister about a story told to him by another man which includes a story by yet another man which includes a story about a family. This leads to an oddly passive approach, as everything is a telling of what happened in the past, and nothing happens in the present until the very end. I found it easiest to read the text quickly, getting the main idea of each sentence rather than parsing it word by word. The vocabulary can be challenging, although context typically provides enough to get the gist of the meaning. The book gets off to kind of a slow start, but I felt it picked up after the first murder.

I found my current interpretation of the story to be very much informed by current events—women viewed as objects/mates owed to men, the fear of what a woman of independent thought can do, an inability to take responsibility for the consequences of your actions and then whining about how tortured you are because those consequences have gotten out of hand. It read very much to me as an indictment of the self-centered men who surrounded the teenaged Mary Shelley as she wrote this.

This doesn’t negate the messages of the dangers of creating something because you can and not considering whether or not, for the sake of all of humanity, you should. Not does it negate the exploration of parenthood and the question of responsibility for the actions of your progeny. Nor the destructive nature of seeking personal glory without thought for those you may hurt along the way. Nor the political metaphors of class and slavery. There are many themes explored throughout the novel and I fell down a delightful rabbit hole of critique after I finished reading the book (I was an English major and literature teacher. Yes, this is my idea of fun!).

Frankenstein is a great book for homeschooling or other small groups of precocious readers where there can be in depth discussion about what the readers are getting from the story. And it benefits from learning about Mary Shelley and the influences that affected a worldly and educated teenager who also was pregnant with and lost several children during the time that she wrote and revised Frankenstein. If your older tween has an interest in reading Frankenstein, do yourself and your child a favor and read it yourself so you can discuss it with your child—this is a book that should stick with you long after you close it. If you want guidance for discussion questions, there are a ton of resources—or you can just start with the classic, “Who is/are the real monster(s) in this story?” which is a question with no clear-cut answer. There are also many, many film interpretations, all of which take great liberties with the novel; watching a version or two and doing a book/film comparison provides a good framework for discussing the novel with your child.

SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid

Violence, Death, and Murder

Nothing is terribly graphic, but this is really not a happy book. The monster and the mate he requests are sewn together from dead bodies from cemeteries and slaughterhouses. The mate is chopped up and thrown into the sea before she gets the spark of life.

The monster is bullied and shot, chased from town and pelted with rocks, insulted to his face, etc. He’s treated all manner of horribly.

A woman dies after she nurses another through an illness. A child is murdered, an innocent woman is framed and hanged for it, a blameless man is murdered, a bride is killed on her wedding night to punish her groom, and an old man dies when he gets the news. Victor dies. It’s strongly implied the monster dies. Sled dogs die. I may have missed some, but that’s at least most of the deaths.


Much of the book is Victor’s emotional anguish about what he’s done and how tortured he is by the consequences, wavering between how unfair life is and how much he deserves all of this. He is frequently near death because after every emotional blow he gets a fever and loses months at a time to being semiconscious due to his illnesses. Maybe I related to this as a teenager. As an adult, it feels like satire about overly emotional boys who feel everything SO deeply and then write poetry about it.

All of Victor’s emotions are felt very strongly. Everything is either the best thing ever or the worst thing ever. There is little nuance in how events and people are portrayed—but this seems to fit with his world view and possibly also the perceptions of a man who has faced too much loss. Those he lost are perfect in hindsight. The tragedies are the worst things that have ever happened to anyone.

Much of the rest of the book is the monster’s angst at being abandoned by his creator and finding no love or acceptance among humanity. I mean, he has a point. But his ideas for solving this are to have Victor make him a mate who will love him and complete him and they will live in paradise eating nuts and berries—or he will kill everyone Victor loves and take his revenge on humanity in general. Again, I felt there was some satire aimed at entitled guys who are convinced others can solve all their problems and throw destructive tantrums when that doesn’t happen.


Mary Shelley was unquestionably a feminist, yet there are almost no women in Frankenstein and nearly all of them die tragically because of men. (There’s a whole line of critique about how this world where women are nearly nonexistent and are replaced as life-givers and everything goes to hell is a study on the importance of women, so that’s one of the rabbit holes you can find to wander down.) Elizabeth, through Victor’s eyes, is a passive angel—there is little doubt that her version of this story would be very different.

The monster believes that he is owed a mate and that she will solve all of his problems because he will be unquestioningly loved which will make him happy. Victor, despite his faults, realizes that women are human beings who may not react exactly as they are expected to—and this terrifies him. He fears that the mate will have a mind of her own and that he would only be compounding his sin by creating her.

There are two women in the cottage that the monster talks about, and they are probably the most fully developed women in the book despite having little to no effect on the overall plot.

Hubris and Self-centeredness

Many of the problems with the men in this book boil down to their ideas that they are amazing and powerful and should seek glory at all costs. Even the ship captain who frames the story is on a fool’s expedition in the Arctic, and a dying Victor tries to convince him that he should keep going despite his crew’s very reasonable requests to return home rather than die in the icy waters.

Victor can’t quite seem to realize that the monster is a danger to anyone but him, even as the people around him die. By not telling the truth because he fears the repercussions and by believing that the monster wants his death more than anything, he leaves his friends and family at the mercy of the monster. And of course it’s his hubris that led to the creation of the monster in the first place.


Frankenstein isn’t an easy read, but it’s rewarding for those who want to take it on. I think the late tween to teen years are a perfect time for a first reading, and the book greatly benefits from discussion.


Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley
Published in 1818 (there is also a 1831 version, revised by Mary Shelley after her novel became popular)
Because I had loaned out my hardcopy, I read the electronic Amazon Classics Edition, which is free and appears to be a complete and accurate version, unlike some free electronic versions

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