Classic Works of Literature for a 9th Grade Reading List

Whet their reading appetites with these enduring works

Female student sitting on library floor at college campus
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Although there has been some debate over the past few decades about the necessity of requiring high school students to read the classics, these works still appear on many 9th-grade high-school reading lists. Written at a level appropriate for most freshmen, they will nonetheless challenge students to develop stronger reading, writing, and analysis skills, and they also encourage discussion about the human condition

This frankly told tale of the horrors of war was written by someone who lived it while fighting in World War I. The book is narrated by 20-year-old Paul Bäumer, whose experiences of the extreme mental and physical stress of soldiering—and the eventual emotional detachment from civilian life once back home—spin a cautionary tale we have yet to heed.

This devastating satire of the move from tyranny to revolution and back again to tyranny remains as relevant a tale of totalitarianism masquerading as equality today as it did when it was supposedly targeting the abuses of Soviet Russia.  

In 1961, Griffin, a white journalist, set out to journey through the American South in the guise of a black man (he had his skin temporarily darkened) in order to report the realities of life under segregation. Along the way, he confronts his own prejudices and busts the myth that racism was more paranoia than reality.​

This novel is the first in Buck’s famous trilogy of life in China before World War I, some of it based on her own experiences. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932, was instrumental in Buck’s win of a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938, and was turned into a successful film. The book topped the bestseller lists once again in 2004 when it was chosen as the main selection of Oprah’s Book Club.

A novel at once comedic and tragic, Great Expectations centers around a poor young man by the name of Pip, who is given the chance to make himself a gentleman by a mysterious benefactor. It presents a fascinating overview of class, money, and corruption during the Victorian Era.

He’s given us some of the most memorable lines in all of American literature, some of them downright chilling, and yet Poe was more than just a writer of horror. He was also a master of mystery, adventure, and often humor, all written with the same lyrical command of the English language. 

When McCullers published this, her first novel, at only 23 years old, it became an instant sensation. Much about the book’s young heroine, Mick Kelly, will resonate with teenagers today, who may experience the same yearning for independence and self-expression.  

The third of the famed mystery writer’s crime novels to feature Sherlock Holmes, this book has long been a favorite of high school English teachers. Not only is it one of the reference texts for most all detective fiction to come, it is also a model of how to craft character, build suspense, and bring the action to a satisfying conclusion.

The first in a series of seven autobiographical novels written by Angelou, this book was first published in 1969. A searing portrait of Angelou’s transformation from a victim of rape and racism into a self-possessed, dignified young woman is a heartening example for anyone seeking to overcome oppression.

The Iliad is an epic poem attributed to Homer and the oldest extant piece of European literature. Divided into 24 books, it an adventure story set in the final years of the Trojan War that introduces readers to some of the most famous conflicts and characters in all of classic literature.

Jane Eyre is on the surface a romance novel (and one that no doubt established many conventions of the genre), but it is also a great piece of literature. In its heroine, readers will discover a remarkably resourceful and intelligent young woman who comes of age thanks to her inner strength and the redemptive power of love.

It has been called a proto-feminist novel for the way in which the March sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy—are written as fully rounded women with ideas, ambitions, and passions. Readers are likely to find inspiration in one or more of the sisters as they carve out lives for themselves in spite of the hardships of growing up in New England during the Civil War.

In The Guardian's breakdown of the 100 best novels of all time, calls "Lord of the Flies, "...a brilliantly observed study of adolescents untethered from rules and conventions." Far from creating paradise on the island in which this group of English schoolboys has been stranded, they create a dystopian nightmare in which the impulse of savagery far outweighs that of civility.

This sequel to the "Iliad" tells of the 10-year journey back home taken by Odysseus (later Ulysses in Roman mythology) after the fall of Troy. Like its predecessor, it is an epic poem that imbues its main character with the experiences and qualities that we have come to identify with the heroic.

Steinbeck packs quite a punch in this novella of two migrant workers, George and his friend Lennie, a man of imposing physicality but the mind of a child. The action takes place during the Great Depression and deals with themes of racism, sexism, and economic disparity.

More than just a simple tale of an old Cuban fisherman who catches an enormous fish (only to lose it), it is also a tale of bravery, heroism, and one man's battle with challenges both exterior and interior.

Set at a boys' boarding school in New England during the early years of World War II, the novel centers on the friendship between introverted, intellectual Gene and handsome, athletic Finny. The friendship becomes in Gene's mind a tangle of supposed slights possible treachery and what happens as a result will reverberate through both of their lives.

Another coming-of-age story, this one chronicles the life of Francie Nolan, age 11 when the book begins, from 1902 to 1919. Big things blossom in Francie's small sphere in Williamsburg, Brooklyn: love, loss, betrayal, shame, and, ultimately, hope.

Harper Lee's book of racial inequality in the American South of the 1930s is probably the most-read book in American literature. And for good reason. The Pulitzer Prize-winner deals with some heavy issues, yet as seen through the eyes of six-year-old Scout Finch, it is a poignant reminder of the power of kindness and the quest for justice.

An instant success when it was published in 1938, this tale of the care a young boy gives to a wild animal is as uplifting as it is heart-wrenching. The ultimate lesson is that within the harsh realities of life there is also beauty and purpose.