The Prince of Tides is seldom seen on a required reading list for young adult literature courses. It is not likely that this novel will replace classics such as J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951), nor can one expect that Tom Wingo will become as recognizable a protagonist as Holden Caulfield in the young adult canon. This novel’s potential to offend because of its blunt language, situations of violence, and sexual explicitness may limit the general appeal of The Prince of Tides.
Nevertheless, this book is and should be found on supplemental or optional reading lists from which young adults can make their own individual choices. The Prince of Tides, like its predecessors, The Great Santini (1976) and The Lords of Discipline (1980), has an impressive following among young readers. They overlook the epithets of “sloppy emotionalism,” “saccharine sentimentalism,” and “historical carpetbagging” leveled by less enthusiastic critics of Pat Conroy’s autobiographical novels. Instead, many of the young readers who await each new Conroy novel are drawn by the themes of survival and self-discovery. They are attracted by the multilayered, baroque imagery that the author uses to capture the rapture of a moonrise and the haunting memory of a family tragedy. Conroy is a gifted storyteller who knows how to chronicle the wayward, ephemeral human passions. His manifold narrative gifts easily permit the reader to forgive occasional lapses into pedantic clichés and tear-jerking episodes. His novels of human survival are affirmations of life. When stories affirm life, young readers will seek them out.