High School Books to Read

Reading can help students improve their grades and test scores. It also helps them grow emotionally and intellectually.

J.D. Salinger’s classic about an irreverent teen, Holden Caulfield. Primary themes of interest to high school students: unreliable narrators, identity, idealism.

Young readers get hooked on this dystopian tale about a group of teenage boys stranded in a maze. It explores themes of civilization versus savagery and the nature of humanity.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter lives between two worlds: her poor neighborhood and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. When she witnesses the fatal shooting of a friend at the hands of police, Starr is forced to decide whether to speak up or keep quiet.

This young adult novel explores a variety of themes that will resonate with high school students. Its discussion of police brutality, white privilege and black identity is particularly poignant.

J.D. Salinger’s classic explores unreliable narrators, the power of individuality and the nature of evil. Primary themes of interest to high school students include social alienation and rebellion. This book is also available in a graphic novel format.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Despite being long and a bit dull, this book is worth a high school student’s time. The book discusses the 1959 murder of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas, by Dick Hickock and Perry Smith.

Capote wrote the nonfiction novel like a piece of fiction, interviewing the killers, neighbors and investigators and re-creating their dialogue. He also explains the psychological impact that the killings had on the small town.

This is a classic that explores the conflict between good and evil. Often included on required reading lists, this story will make teens examine their own values and actions. It is also a reminder of the power of a lie.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

For years, the usual suspects have dominated high school reading lists. However, some of these books can be tedious for teens.

The Grapes of Wrath is a book that focuses on the plight of migrant workers. The author took inspiration from real events, including the Weedpatch camp. The book is dedicated to Tom Collins, who managed the camp and helped Steinbeck with his research.

George Orwell’s Animal Farm is an important book to teach students about revolutions and uprisings. Anne Frank’s diary is an enlightening nonfiction piece. Percy Jackson is a fun way to learn about Greek mythology. This is a great story to help students cope with bullying.

Kindred by Octavia Butler

Butler, a MacArthur “genius,” was well ahead of her time. A pioneer of Afrofuturism, her work focuses on science fiction and racial justice. Her 1979 novel Kindred features time travel and is modeled after slave narratives.

The story of a black girl’s struggles in high school resonates with teens, as do its themes of racial injustice, morality and courage, and the nature of evil. My Antonia, meanwhile, is a tale of rural life that celebrates family and community. The same mundanity that makes it charming as a teenager makes it a wrenching read as an adult. It’s a reminder of how fragile the human condition can be.

Animal Farm by George Orwell

For years high school English classes have largely drawn from the same set of books. Huckleberry Finn, Of Mice and Men, the Catcher in the Rye, 1984, and Animal Farm are among the usual suspects.

This satirical novel begins with a farm of animals revolting against their drunk farmer, and quickly devolves into the harsh truth behind communism. A great book for teaching kids the evils of totalitarianism, and the danger of letting power go to their heads. This story is also very well told. The accessible language makes it easy for anyone to understand.

The Island by William Golding

A group of boys stranded on an island without adults begins their journey in a jovial fashion, but soon their innate evil turns them against each other. Golding uses subtle clues to portray civilization vs. savagery, and the loss of innocence.

Madame Bovary depicts the detrimental effects of selfish people romanticizing provincial reality. A must-read for teens who want to understand how their own behaviors might have consequences.

Janie Crawford’s struggles for independence make this novel one that is worth a teen’s time. Hurston’s novel has been adapted into several movies and plays. Death of a Salesman is another classic that explores the misguided pursuit of the American Dream.

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