You may not have done all of your assigned reading in high school, but these books have stood the test of time for a reason. These books are perfect additions for your summer reading list or college book bucket list.
1. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
In one of the most heartbreaking and inspirational novels of all time, and adult Scout narrates her childhood in the Deep South during the Depression era. Scout's father, Atticus, is a lawyer who was assigned to defend a black man accused of a crime he didn't commit. This novel is an enjoyable mix of amusing stories of imaginative, precocious children and serious conversations about racism. Atticus spends much of the book trying to instill positive values in his children, and the book handles themes including the loss of innocence, kindness and cruelty, not judging others without knowing them and doing what is right in the face of adversity. Get it for $5.89.
2. Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
In another Depression-era novella from the opposite end of the country, drifting laborers George and Lennie find work at a ranch in Salinas Valley, California. Unfortunately, the friends' dreams of success and owning their own farm are crushed when Lennie underestimates his own strength and causes harm to others on the ranch. This short but powerful book explores themes such as friendship, inequality and misunderstanding of the disabled and those who deviate from the norm. Get it for $8.28.
3. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
This novel is simultaneously a Gothic thriller, a Romantic story and a work of science fiction. In Shelley's first book (she wrote it at 18!), scientist Victor Frankenstein discovers how to animate lifeless matter, but regrets his decision upon seeing its hideousness and abandons his creation. As a result, the creature turns evil and hateful toward humans. Not only is this story emotional and exciting, but it raises intriguing questions about moral responsibility, parent/child relationships, and human nature itself. Get it for $6.00.
4. The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger
In Salinger's famous and polarizing only major novel, sixteen-year-old protagonist Holden Caulfield spends a weekend on his own in New York City after being expelled from prep school. But with Holden's newfound freedom comes cynicism toward "phony" adults and their mundane lives. This novel explores themes including rejection of the artificial culture of the 1950s, a fear of growing up and the development of mental illness. Get it for $11.08.
5. The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
In Wilde's typical style, this novel is both a romantic and satirical exposure of the hedonistic culture of wealthy Victorians. Dorian is a beautiful young man who trades his soul for eternal youth. However, as Dorian becomes more corrupt, a painting of him becomes more hideous and disfigured. If this thriller is not intriguing enough to you yet, read it because it was viewed as scandalous and banned when it was published in England because of its subtext and undertones. Get it for $3.60.
6. Macbeth, William Shakespeare
One of Shakespeare's most famous tragedies, Macbeth deals with the supernatural, relationships, envy, and a hero's downfall in this fictionalized play about a real Scottish king's short reign. Macbeth hears a prophecy from three witches which leads him to believe that he must murder his loyal King Duncan to receive the crown. However, royalty is not enough for Macbeth and his wife, and their hubris may lead to their demise. I'm not a huge Shakespeare fan typically, but this play is worth reading if only for Lady Macbeth's pure, unadulterated savagery. Get it for $5.39.
7. The Giver, Lois Lowry
Although this book is typically assigned in middle school rather than high school because of its lexile and relatively age-appropriate content, The Giver is a story that offers even more food for thought to adults than it does for younger readers. The protagonist, Jonas, lives in a utopia where everything is full and monochromatic, no one has memories of the past and all questions have simple answers. When he is assigned the job Receiver of Memories, Jonas must learn about the harsh realities and pains of the world outside of his home. Get it for $7.19.
8. Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison
In a town in Michigan, a man throws himself off the roof of Mercy Hospital, claiming he can fly, and plummets to his death. Macon "Milkman" Dead III is born there the next day. Morrison's 1977 novel tells the life story of Milkman, an African-American man living in Michigan who is caught in battling his origins and his society. This important book centers around the black experience in America, but the themes of love, loss and the search for identity are applicable to all of humanity. Get it for $10.87.
9. The Book Thief, Marcus Zusak
Although this book is what one may call an "easy read" (or as close as one can get to an easy read in a 500-page novel), this modern work of historical fiction set in Munich throughout the rise of World War II contains a lot of heavy content between lighthearted stories of children at play. Liesel Meminger feels helpless in a war-torn country, so she rebels in the best way she can - by stealing books. This entertaining yet powerful novel explores themes of social and economic inequality, justice and the difficult situations that blur the line between what is legally correct and what is morally right. Get it for $10.39.
10. Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut
Vonnegut's most popular novel is a satirical look at life for a soldier during and after World War II. The opening line of the second chapter (the first chapter, naturally, warns us that the narrator is only somewhat reliable with the line "All this happened, more or less"), "Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time," starts the reader on a dizzying trip, jumping back and forth throughout phases of Billy's life and experiencing the war and PTSD through the eyes of someone who experienced it. If that is not intriguing enough, this book is often banned for its language and crude humor. Get it for $12.51.
11. The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
Anyone who is familiar with Sylvia Plath's biography knows that she struggled with mental illness throughout her short life. In this semi-autobiographical novel, Esther Greenwood goes to New York to work for a magazine. However, the beautiful, clever and talented girl has a secret: she is caught in an internal struggle as she finds herself on the brink of insanity. This book will take the reader to the deepest, darkest, corners of the human psyche and leave you pondering Esther's pain, confusion and alienation. Get it for $8.79.
Lead image credit: Jukka Zitting via Flickr Creative Commons
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