What You Should Read in High School
In the summer issue of home/school/life, we're helping you figure out the best way for your family to homeschool high school — and for us, what to read is an essential piece of the puzzle. By high school, your reading list should reflect your teen’s interests, but we think these books are worthy contenders.
Why you should read it: Fitzgerald’s novel about love, success, and the Jazz Age is arguably the quintessential American novel, reflecting both the spirit of the American dream and the high cost paid for it.
Why you should read it: This simple-on-the-surface novella lends itself to deeper reading and raises compelling questions about friendship, love, and what happens when life doesn’t work out the way you’d imagined.
Why you should read it: Vonnegut writes in his introduction to this book that “there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre” — and then proves himself completely wrong in the following funny, curious, heartbreaking pages that mix fact and fiction.
Why you should read it: Everyone is happy in this futuristic fantasy — and that’s terrifying. If you don’t recognize in this dystopia pieces of our own modern world — mood-lifting meds, technologically assisted everything — go back and look again.
Why you should read it: The brilliant, self-destructive narrator of this book is intriguingly complicated. Equal parts fascinating and repugnant, he’s the kind of complex character you can talk about for hours.
Why you should read it: Beckett’s masterpiece lacks sensible characters, a logical plotline, and a coherent setting, but teasing it out will uncover the genius — and hilarity — of this absurd play.
Why you should read it: Gleefully, manically, Heller reveals the absurdity of war through the twisty-turny stories of a group of World War II fighter pilots.
Why you should read it: Perhaps no author better captures the downward spiral of depression into madness than Plath does in this semi-autobiographical novel.
Why you should read it: Teenagers can really identify with Gregor Samsa, who wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into something else entirely, reviled by his family, and forced to question his own identity.
Why you should read it: If you read only one book in high school, it should be this one, which inspires all the questions that matter: Who am I? How do I live well? What is art? What is the meaning of my life?
Why you should read it: The stark, simple tale of Igbo boy Okonokwo is both a richly resonant reflection of African culture and an indictment of European colonialism.
Why you should read it: What’s terrifying about Atwood’s dystopian future, in which a totalitarian religious regime controls women’s lives completely, is how believable it is.
Why you should read it: What does it mean to be human? Dick’s twisted, dark tale of an android-hunter on a mission to take down rogue robots dives fearlessly into the question of self.
Why you should read it: This coming-of-age novel (set in World War I Germany) perfectly captures the experience of modern war — from the patriotic elation of joining up to the despair and disillusionment of the trenches.
Why you should read it: OK, this one’s not an easy read. But slow down, dig in, and let the rhythms of Faulkner’s language wash over you.
Why you should read it: Kurt Vonnegut said that this Russian novel can teach you everything you need to know about life. I think he might be on to something.