Top 10 Books for High School Seniors

From Homer to Chekhov to Bronte, 10 books every high school senior should know

Smiling high school student reading book in library
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This is a sampling of the titles that often appear on high-school reading lists for 12th-grade students, and are often discussed in greater depth in college literature courses. The books on this list are important introductions to world literature. (And on a more practical and humorous note, you might also want to read these 5 Books You Should Read Before College). 

The Odyssey, Homer

This epic Greek poem, believed to have originated in the oral storytelling tradition, is one of the foundations of Western literature. It focuses on the trials of the hero Odysseus, who tries to journey home to Ithaca after the Trojan War.

Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

The story of Anna Karenina and her ultimately tragic love affair with Count Vronsky was inspired by an episode in which Leo Tolstoy arrived at a railway station shortly after a young woman had committed suicide. She had been the mistress of a neighboring landowner, and the incident stuck in his mind, ultimately serving as the inspiration for a classic story of star-crossed lovers.

The Seagull, Anton Chekhov

The Seagull by Anton Chekhov is a slice-of-life drama set in the Russian countryside at the end of the 19th century. The cast of characters is dissatisfied with their lives. Some desire love. Some desire success. Some desire artistic genius. No one, however, ever seems to attain happiness.

Some critics view The Seagull as a tragic play about eternally unhappy people. Others see it as a humorous albeit bitter satire, poking fun at human folly.

Candide, Voltaire

Voltaire offers his satirical view of society and nobility in Candide. The novel was published in 1759, and it is often considered the author's most important work, representative of The Enlightenment. A simple-minded young man, Candide is convinced his world is the best of all worlds, but a trip around the world opens his eyes about what he believes to be true.

Crime and Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky

This novel explores the moral implications of murder, told through the story of Raskolnikov, who decides to murder and rob a pawnbroker in St. Petersburg. He reasons the crime is justified. Crime and Punishment is also a social commentary on the effects of poverty.

Cry, the Beloved Country, Alan Paton

This novel set in South Africa just before apartheid became institutionalized is a social commentary on the racial inequities and its causes, offering perspectives from both white and Black people.

Beloved, Toni Morrison

This Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is the story of the lingering psychological effects of enslavement told through the eyes of a self-liberated enslaved woman named Sethe, who killed her two-year-old daughter rather than allow the child to be recaptured. A mysterious woman known only as Beloved appears to Sethe years later, and Sethe believes her to be the reincarnation of her dead child. An example of magical realism, Beloved explores the bonds between a mother and her children, even in the face of unspeakable evil.

Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe

Achebe's 1958 post-colonial novel tells the story of the Ibo tribe in Nigeria, before and after the British colonized the country. Protagonist Okonkwo is a proud and angry man whose fate is closely tied to the changes that colonialism and Christianity bring to his village. Things Fall Apart, whose title is taken from the William Yeats poem "The Second Coming," is one of the first African novels to receive universal critical acclaim.

Frankenstein, Mary Shelley

Considered one of the first works of science fiction, Mary Shelley's masterwork is more than just a story of a terrifying monster, but a Gothic novel that tells the tale of a scientist who tries to play God, and then refuses to take responsibility for his creation, leading to tragedy.

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte

The coming-of-age story of one of the most remarkable female protagonists in Western literature, Charlotte Bronte's heroine was one of the first in English literature to serve as first-person narrator of her own life story. Jane finds love with the enigmatic Rochester, but on her own terms, and only after he has proven himself worthy of her.

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Lombardi, Esther. "Top 10 Books for High School Seniors." ThoughtCo, Oct. 29, 2020, Lombardi, Esther. (2020, October 29). Top 10 Books for High School Seniors. Retrieved from Lombardi, Esther. "Top 10 Books for High School Seniors." ThoughtCo. (accessed April 2, 2023).