Although summer vacation provides teenagers a break from the ho-hum of high school, it is still crucial that they continue to read books during summertime. Often times, students’ reading, comprehension, and analytical skills deteriorate over the summer as a result of not picking up a book. Summer reading not only preserves these skills but enhances them with independent readings and projects, preparing students for the fall. The best books for teens to read in the summer must be imaginative and easy to read yet feature literary concepts discussed in English class. Based on these criteria, the best books for high school summer reading lists include:
1984 by George Orwell
Orwell’s classic dystopian novel is about life in the communist province of 1984 Oceania, which is involved in perpetual warfare, pervasive government surveillance, and incessant public mind control (Wikipedia.org). Aside from the infamous affair between characters Winston Smith and Julia, 1984 deals with a wealth of themes: nationalism, government, the individual vs. society, technology, language, and repression. The novel was written as social prediction warning people what can happen when government holds ultimate power and control. Surprisingly, although Orwell created Oceana over fifty years ago, many parallels can be drawn between Oceania and today’s world. Reading 1984 thus prompts teenagers to delve into rich themes as well as make comparisons between literature and culture.
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
Set during World War II at a New England private school, A Separate Peace revolves around the dangerous rivalry between friends Gene and Finny. Not surprisingly, war is the most prominent theme throughout the novel on a couple of levels. One level comprises of the real-life war of World War II while the other entails Gene’s feelings of jealousy and codependency towards Finny. High school students will be able to easily relate the friend’s personal feud, but the plot’s strong emphasis on cause-and-effect will prepare them to recognize actions and their consequences in literature.
The Ear, The Eye, and The Arm by Nancy Farmer
Much further in the future, Farmer’s coming-of-age novel takes place in 2194 Zimbabwe; General Matsika’s sheltered children have run away only to be kidnapped, and it’s up to mutant detectives The Ear, The Eye, and The Arm to find them. The bizarre setting of futuristic Africa is more than enough to not only to intrigue teenagers but to compare and contrast settings, societies, and cultures as well. The two major places in the novel include Mbare Musika- a bustling metropolitan area- and Resthaven, a savannah that preserves the traditions of African tribal life. In addition, teenagers will watch eldest son Tendai grow as person throughout the novel, which will help them be able to identify dynamic and static characters and their importance in literature.
The Everything Classical Mythology Book by Lesley Bolton
At some point in their high school career, teenagers will encounter classical literature because almost all English classes require them to read the Odyssey, Antigone, Medea, and Oedipus Rex- all revolving around Greek deities and legends. Greek mythology isn’t common knowledge, so teenagers need to be exposed to it in advance in order to better understand and appreciate the literature. The Everything Classical Mythology Book will inform them about not only about the gods and goddesses, but the minor deities, creatures, legends, and daily lives of the daily Greeks as well. After reading this guide, teenagers will become familiar with Greek Mythology and be able to apply what they learned in their readings.
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Unlike The Ear, The Eye, and The Arm, Things Fall Apart is set in the midst of the British colonizing Africa in the late 19th century. As a result, there is obvious conflict between the cultures of the traditional African tribes and the white colonists. African society ultimately “falls apart” under England’s influence, but a lot of natives clung onto their previous way of life until disillusionment and, sometimes, death. One such African is the novel’s protagonist Okonkwo, who represents native resistance against the British and the fall of African society. Major themes in Things Fall Apart include the struggle between change and tradition, the varying definitions of masculinity, and language as a sign of cultural difference. All of themes are important when dealing with any culture, not just African, so teenagers will be able to study all literature with a variety of perspectives.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird takes place in the 1930’s South, where racism is infused in the cultural climate like the leaves in sweet, iced tea. Lee particularly sets her novel in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama during one fateful summer. The story mainly revolves around the trial of Tom Robinson, a black man who is wrongfully accused of raping a white girl. Other subplots include tomboy Scout Finch growing as a young woman and she and her brother, Jem, unraveling the mystery of the feared Boo Radley. Although the novel’s main source of conflict arises from racism, prejudice is also incited by others’ age, gender, status, and mental adequacy as well. Teenagers will deal with themes including prejudice, growing up, injustice, and the individual vs. society.
These five books are the best books for high school reading lists for their balance between entertainment and education. Students will be able to enjoy these books while preparing for next year’s English class. Most importantly, teenagers will deal with themes that will broaden their understanding of themselves and their surroundings- the highest form of learning.