MMGM (4/3/2017) Classic Critique: The Red Pony by John Steinbeck

Update (4/2/2022): I typically participate in blogging groups that review kids’ books, but sometimes, I do end up reading adult books like this one. In the past, I have typically labeled those books as MG or YA when I review them, primarily because I still want my typically blogging audiences to see them! However, this has become confusing, so I have decided to re-label these books as adult books, while leaving the reviews in their original format. Thank you for your consideration!

For MMGM, I am doing something a little different. As you might have noticed, all of my past MMGM posts have been recommendations, with little to no criticism. However, I have noticed that, for all the good books out there, some classics (i.e. those we are forced to read) aren't as good as many lesser-known books. Since I recently had to read a book for a school project, I have decided to review it while it's fresh in my memory. Therefore, I am reviewing The Red Pony by John Steinbeck, using the classic pros-and-cons style.

  • Enjoyable style and voice. The Red Pony, originally written in 1945, revolves around a boy named Jody growing up on a ranch in what seems to be the 1920s. Steinbeck's narration of the four short stories comprising the book is enjoyable to read, featuring heavy use of figurative language and a distinct style and voice (the author's voice, not the main character's) that is omniscient, switching between several characters thoughts and feelings.
  • Interesting characters. Steinbeck crafts an interesting cast for the book. Jody is a somewhat strange boy (often noticing what shoes his father is wearing based on their sound, for instance) who rarely talks, while his father is often mean and distant, trying to seem tough, but often internally realizing his mistakes, only to immediately make them again out of shame.
  • Reasonable length. Unlike so many other books of its time, The Red Pony has 100 pages of material formed into a book that is exactly 100 pages. After reading so many 600-page classics, a shorter one is refreshing.

  • Everything is gruesome. There are 5 parts of the book (all of which involve animals) that are described in a way that could traumatize anyone (e.g. cutting open a horse's windpipe, beating a buzzard to death with a rock). This is far too many, and Steinbeck's skill at description is actually problematic here, making it challenging to get through many parts of The Red Pony.
  • Everything is depressing. So much of this book is sad, from the fate of the titular character to the feelings of many characters (such as Jody's grandfather, who always tells the same stories from the past over and over, much to the dismay of Jody's father). Since the book is so short, there are very few happy or hopeful moments, making the book drag on, despite its short length.
  • Everything is misspelled. When character's names are misspelled as "Judy" and "Billly," it is slightly concerning (especially on a copy printed 50 years later—why hasn't it been spellchecked?)

This book has many good qualities, but, in my opinion, its unrelenting sadness severely lowers its ranking. However, it could always be worse, and, for an old book, it is relatively enjoyable, featuring great writing (I can understand why it is a classic). I know many of you will probably disagree with me, but I still hope you enjoyed reading this review!


  1. I haven't seen this one around too much these days. I remember reading it I think in ninth grade. Your pros and cons were spot on. Thanks for your review.

  2. I never read this but the cons outweigh the pros for me. Thanks for sharing this.

  3. I've never read this book. But like Natalie the con's don't encourage me.

  4. I appreciate your honest review. I've never read Steinbeck, but I have huge concerns about the required reading for most schools, so I am really interested in what you have to say. Thanks very much.

  5. I think the gruesome parts, as well as the musty pong, led to this being deaccessioned from my library. Thanks for sharing this.

  6. Ooph... Bad spelling and gruesome scenes? Doesn't sound like the one for me. Thanks for your honest review! I absolutely agree with the 100 pages: lots of long classics nowadays.
    - Vi


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