Reading for a high school English class is just about a lost art. Let’s be honest. You probably Sparknoted more than a few of the classics on your summer reading list. Or just opted for the movie adaptation instead (shame on you). But thankfully, it’s never too late to pick up your new favorite book. So here are 5 books you didn’t read in high school, but actually should:

To Kill a Mockingbird
If there was an award for the best one-hit wonder of American literature, Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird would be a shoe-in. This critically acclaimed novel addresses complex topics including racism, family bonds, and growing up in a beautifully crafted and timeless way. In it we follow 6-year old Scout and her brother Jem, whose father Atticus Finch is a lawyer defending a black man in the unjust case against him. Scout gives us a child-like view of the world– simple and innocent, yet unflinching in its message of compassion and justice. And honestly, who couldn’t use a little more of that nowadays?

The Grapes of Wrath
Guaranteed a spot on every list of the 100 Best Books of All Time and on a list of books with the move confusing titles is The Grapes of Wrath.  John Steinbeck’s novel follows the Joads as they leave from their Oklahoma home and set out for California in hopes of finding work. Hardship after hardship plague this tight-knit family but they continue to strive for life and share all they have till the very end. This visceral story perfectly embodies the human spirit of perseverance and goodness in the face of crippling poverty and adversity.

Brave New World
Move over, Katniss. If you are a fan of dystopian novels like The Giver or The Hunger Games, you’ll love Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Although written in 1931, the parallels to our world today are absolutely chilling. This novel paints the picture of a totalitarian society in which science is god and pleasure is above all. And we see what happens when unique individuals like our main characters socially elite Bernard Marx and the Shakespeare-quoting Savage try to challenge the status quo. Brave New World is a thought-provoking read that makes the readers question the ideas of freedom and what makes us human. This novel is science fiction at its best and guaranteed to be a worthwhile read.  

If you enjoy a good ghost story Toni Morrison’s Beloved will be right up your alley. But this story offers so much more than its supernatural elements.  Beloved tells the story of Sethe, a former slave, and her daughter living in a house haunted by Sethe’s dead child known as Beloved. This novel can be a difficult read for some because it delves deep into the brutal realities and physiological effects of slavery. But it is also what makes this book so good. At its heart, it is a story that illustrates in a radical way the past can haunt us, and destroy us if we choose to remain in it. Beloved is a compelling read and encourages you to contemplate the consequences the deprivation of freedom has on human persons.

Okay, so I’m cheating a bit with this one. But I know your teacher covered more than one Shakespeare play during your high school career, and it was with good reason. His work has withstood the test of time and has gone on to inspire art and artists through the centuries. I mean, who else could inspire The Lion King, Mumford and Sons, and knock-knock jokes? Only the Bard.

While the language of the plays can be challenging to modern readers, their poetic beauty continues to strike a chord in the heart of the audience. Both Shakespeare’s tragedies like Macbeth or Romeo and Juliet, and his comedies like Midsummer’s Night Dream or Twelfth Night are packed with a cast of familiar characters and universal conflicts and plots. His plays are brilliant and relatable and totally worth the read (or watch!)

[By guest blogger Carissa Pluta]


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