Great Books from High School Summer Reading Lists

School boy (16-17) reading on floor by bookshelf in library
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High school summer reading lists are legendary. Many of us, however, managed to make it out of high school without being assigned some essential summer reading titles. This summer, why not pick up a book from this list? These books are so entertaining, they will make you wonder why you ever dreaded summer reading assignments.

'To Kill a Mockingbird' by Harper Lee

Cover of To Kill a Mockingbird
Grand Central Publishing

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is set in Alabama in the 1930s and is told from a child's viewpoint. The story deals with race, outcasts and growing up. It is a quick, well-written book that is easy to enjoy

'Their Eyes Were Watching God' by Zora Neale Hurston

'Their Eyes Were Watching God' by Zora Neale Hurston
'Their Eyes Were Watching God' - Courtesy HarperCollins

Their Eyes Were Watching God is a sensual novel about an African-American woman in rural Florida that was first published in 1937. While it is an important telling of the black experience, it is also a story of love and strength with a voice that will draw you in and hook you

'1984' by George Orwell

'1984' by George Orwell
'1984' - Courtesy Penguin

Set in a grim dystopian future,1984 is a gripping, terrifying and suspenseful novel that is as relevant today as when it was first written. This is definitely one of the best books I have ever read.

'Brave New World' by Aldous Huxley

'Brave New World' by Aldous Huxley
'Brave New World' - Courtesy HarperCollins

Brave New World and 1984 are often lumped together on reading lists, although they paint very different pictures of what the future may hold. Brave New World is funny, clever and will help you better understand a lot of cultural references.

'The Great Gatsby' by F. Scott Fitzgerald

'The Great Gatsby' by F. Scott Fitzgerald
'The Great Gatsby' - Courtesy Simon & Schuster

The Great Gatsby is a short book about the American dream with great characters and descriptions of life (for the wealthy) in the 1920s. F. Scott Fitzgerald's writing underscores the decadence of a decade marked by opulence and bracketed with tragedy. 

'Dracula' by Bram Stoker

'Dracula' by Bram Stoker
'Dracula' - Courtesy Penguin

Read the book that has inspired countless other books, movies, and TV shows. Dracula is written through letters and diary entries and will make you feel like an intimate player in a foreign world.

'Les Miserables' by Victor Hugo

'Les Miserables' by Victor Hugo
'Les Miserables' - Courtesy Knopf

Although I am normally not a fan of abridging novels, I admit that I first read an abridged translation of Les Miserables. Even abridged, it was a great book and became one of my all-time favorites. Whether you try the full 1,500 pages or take a 500-page version, this is a must-read the story of love, redemption, and revolution.

'The Grapes of Wrath' by John Steinbeck

'The Grapes of Wrath' by John Steinbeck
'The Grapes of Wrath' - Courtesy Penguin

In high school, half my class loved The Grapes of Wrath and half hated it. I loved it. The Grapes of Wrath is the story of a family during the Great Depression, but the descriptions and symbolic imagery tell a much bigger tale. This is definitely a classic in American literature.

'The Things They Carried' by Tim O'Brien

'The Things They Carried' by Tim O'Brien
'The Things They Carried' - Courtesy Random House

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien is a collection of short stories that creates a bigger story. O'Brien writes about the Vietnam War and how it affected a group of soldiers. The writing is excellent, and the book is powerful.

'A Prayer for Owen Meany' by John Irving

'A Prayer for Owen Meany' by John Irving
'A Prayer for Owen Meany' - Courtesy Random House

Although high school summer reading is often classics, great works of contemporary literature often make the cut as well. A Prayer for Owen Meany is one of those books. You will not be sorry if you add it to your summer reading list.