There are many classic books that should be read in high school. Some are old and timeless, while others have a more modern appeal.
Whether your student is an introvert or an extrovert, they will enjoy this novel about the heartbreaks and friendships of high school. Students will also love the humorous drawings.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
As a newspaper reporter, Steinbeck witnessed the “absolute terror” of families forced to leave their Oklahoma homes in search of land and work during the Great Depression. In 1939, he incorporated those searing experiences into the classic The Grapes of Wrath.
This Depression-era novel follows the travails of the Joad family as they move from their home in Oklahoma to California. The book became a national best seller and is considered an American classic.
J.D. Salinger’s lyrical tale of the irreverent teenager Holden Caulfield explores issues high schoolers may face, including unreliable narrators and the effects of isolation. Hersey’s heartbreaking account of the 1945 bombing of Hiroshima offers lessons in perseverance and forbearance.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The 1985 feminist dystopian urtext is as relevant now as it was then. Atwood’s chilling vision of a theocratic America in which women are relegated to a reproductive role has given rise to the countless other similar novels (including the Hulu series starring Elisabeth Moss) and shaped our modern politics.
But the Canadian writer also produces dark comedy, biting satires, retellings of classics such as The Tempest and The Odyssey, pastiches of Gothic romances and fairy tales, and quiet interrogations of identity and memory. In her new collection of short stories, Atwood delivers her trademark wit while tackling themes from the death of a cat to the power of language. She even takes a playful turn with Princess Prunella and the Purple Peanut, a silly picture book that brims with alliteration and understated humor.
The Poet X by Xiomara Batista
In an era when teachers are rethinking the traditional high school reading list, one book in particular stands out for its ability to connect with young readers in profound ways. The Poet X tells the story of a Dominican-American girl in her sophomore year of high school who is trying to find her voice in the world around her. She lives with her deeply religious mother, a semi-inattentive father, and her whip-smart twin brother. Her tall, curvy body draws unwanted attention from boys and men, making her feel trapped.
Using slam poetry, this #ownvoices novel in verse follows Xiomara through her frustrations and passions. From her experience in her music class to forming first feelings for a boy named Aman, she records her life through poems that she recite to herself like prayers.
Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
Some traditional high school books have stood the test of time — The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, The Catcher in the Rye, 1984. But, critics argue, these classics do not represent the full diversity of the human experience.
Arthur Miller’s play of a man in search of self-worth examines loss of identity and aging. It’s an ideal choice for a drama class.
Hurston’s story of Janie Crawford, a confident black woman seeking independence, will appeal to teenagers. Its discussion of racial injustice, family and home life, and ideals will spark conversations in 9th grade literature classes.
The Fireman by Ray Bradbury
This science-fiction book offers an unnerving glimpse into future technology and how it might change society. In addition, it explores the pitfalls of revenge and the cycles of destruction that one act can create.
Montag’s world is filled with noise and electronic media, dumbed-down news coverage and condensed literature. He begins to question his career and his life when he meets Clarisse, who talks about ideas and history like no one else.
This classic explores the conflict between good and evil. John Steinbeck’s novel will prompt students to think about issues such as social class, race and gender identity. Suitable for 9th grade.