For most of us, high school is one of the most challenging experiences of our lives. Moreover, it’s probably the time when we feel most alone. It’s a period in which we change very quickly, and as this happens it often seems as though we are out of kilter with the whole world. Summer vacation is a chance to take a break from it all, regroup, rehash what went wrong and start all over again. With this in mind, here are some books that might help.
His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
(Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife, The Amber Spyglass)
The summer vacation is a chance to escape from the confines of everyday life. Forget about pressing assignment deadlines, stop worrying about the complicated unwritten rules governing high school survival. His Dark Materials will transport you into a whole new world. Well, several actually. It begins in Oxford, England, in a parallel universe to our own. You will follow hot on the heels of the unruly eleven year old Lyra Belacqua as she attempts to rescue her only friend, who has been kidnapped by the Church. There are academics, armoured bears, witches who live for hundreds of years and never grow old. If that isn’t enough, what about shamans, gypsies and a Texan hot air balloonist? Try to erase the film (The Golden Compass) from your mind, regardless of whether you enjoyed it or not. The two are not to be compared. These three books will take you on the most poignant, emotionally charged and magical journey of your literary life. You will lose yourself in the breathtaking, ever-changing landscapes, your heart will be broken and mended time and time again. Each individual character is so well crafted that in the eyes of the reader they become living, sentient beings. This is a story to completely lose yourself in; it’s as if CS Lewis met JRR Tolkien and together they stepped through Lewis Carroll’s Looking Glass.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S. Thompson
Drugs are bad, kids. There’s no escaping that one. But what if you could have the trip without actually taking the drugs yourself? Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is your chance to do just that. What starts out as a sports writer’s assignment to cover a desert race in Nevada quickly escalates into the road trip of a lifetime in the hands of Raoul Duke and his lawyer, Dr. Gonzo. A great introduction to Hunter S. Thompson, brought to life by Ralph Steadman’s disturbingly apt illustrations. A very dark read, however this should definitely be filed under the ‘fun’ portion of your summer break. After all, who doesn’t want to drive off into the sunset in a nearly stolen fire-apple red convertible?
Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
In high school the world of friendships can become incredibly complicated. As we grow up we sometimes grow apart, our priorities change and we find ourselves having to constantly adapt to new situations. In the process, we often end up treating each other pretty badly, pushing others under in order to keep our own heads above the water. Of Mice and Men is a humbling reminder of what the word ‘friendship’ actually means. It tells the story of itinerant workers George and Lenny, friends who would kill or die for one another, and who are constantly tested by the misunderstanding, prejudice and hate that faces them. The California landscape is beautifully depicted in this novel, and it is worth noting how much the characters are a part of the land which provides their existence. A beautiful, sorrowful tale, which strips human nature down to its animalistic origins and which will move all but the stoniest of readers.
Girlfriend in a Coma – Douglas Coupland
The start of the scholastic year provides an opportunity to reinvent oneself to a certain degree. This means that the summer vacation is at least partly dedicated to thinking about the future. Where would you like to be headed? What are your aims for the coming year? Girlfriend in a Coma gives us a glimpse of where we all might be headed, individually and as a whole, and with this foresight gives us a chance to change direction, should we so choose. The plot is all in the title: seventeen year old Karen falls into a coma for no apparent reason and we watch as her friends carry on; growing up and trying to build lives for themselves as she lies asleep. Some of the book is narrated by Jared, a friend who had died before the beginning of the story and who is speaking to us from the other side, as it were. A really interesting read with some clever plot twists; a sort of warning and a beacon of hope all at the same time.