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Patricia Puentes

What Makes a Good Book Club Read?

books assigned to read in high school

Whether you’ve been a member of a book club for a long time, just joined your local chapter of a Silent Book Club , became a new member of Book of the Month or — like me — simply decided reading consistently is one of your easily achievable new year’s resolutions , finding the right title can be a bit of a challenge.

I’m part of three different book clubs, each with different levels of commitment, and I only read whatever has been chosen about half of the time, and that’s being generous. Sometimes I don’t feel like spending time with a particular title — or author. The more participants a book club has, the more difficult it is to choose a novel that’ll appeal to and satisfy everyone involved. 

“We think the best book club books are the ones you keep thinking about long after you’ve turned the last page — the ones that make you ask every friend and family member, ‘Have you read…?’ just so you can talk about it,” say the folks at the online bookstore AbeBooks . 

books assigned to read in high school

I couldn’t agree more with that. Even though there’s no perfect answer to what makes for the great book club fit, here are a few additional tips that could help you choose that next memorable title:


books assigned to read in high school

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books assigned to read in high school

A row of books.

50 classics from (almost) everyone's high school reading list

Keri Wiginton

Research shows that reading fiction encourages empathy . While more high school curriculums should include modern, diverse writers like Amy Tan and Malala Yousafzai, certain classics—like John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" and Sandra Cisneros' "The House on Mango Street"—endure. Some even make a comeback. George Orwell's "1984," a novel published in 1949 about a dystopian future where the government controls the truth, even surged to #6 on the bestseller list in January 2021, selling more than 24,000 copies following the insurrection in Washington D.C.

While books are ostensibly for anyone with a yearning to learn, sometimes parents, teachers, and school board officials disagree on what kids should or shouldn't read. The result of the push and pull between these groups then shapes the reading lists of millions across the country. According to Pen America , 1,648 different books were banned in schools across the United States between July 2021 and June 2022. These bans affected 138 school districts in 32 states, impacting the books an estimated 4 million students were allowed to read. The top three most frequently banned books were Maia Kobabe's "Gender Queer: A Memoir," George M. Johnson's "All Boys Aren't Blue," and Ashley Hope Pérez's "Out of Darkness."

Certain books deserve a first, second, or maybe even a third read. Using data from Goodreads released in January 2023, Stacker compiled a list of 50 timeless books, plays, and epic poems commonly found on high school reading lists. A total of 1,194 voters picked the most essential reading required for students. The final ranking is based on Goodreads' score, which considers multiple factors, including total votes each book received and how highly voters ranked each book.

Read on to see which classics made the list.

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books assigned to read in high school

#50. Their Eyes Were Watching God

- Author: Zora Neale Hurston - Score: 4,143 - Average rating: 3.97 (based on 316,337 ratings)

A coming-of-age story set in early 1900s Florida, "Their Eyes Were Watching God" tackles a multitude of issues: racism, sexism, segregation, poverty, and gender roles, among others. Initially overlooked upon its release, Zora Neale Hurston's best-known work is now considered a modern American masterpiece thanks to work done in Black studies programs in the 1970s.

books assigned to read in high school

#49. Mythology

- Author: Edith Hamilton - Score: 4,148 - Average rating: 4.02 (based on 52,213 ratings)

Edith Hamilton's " Mythology " has been a standard of both reference and pleasure reading since its publication in 1942. The book was commissioned by an editor at the publisher Little, Brown and Company in 1939 to replace the outdated 1855 collection on the subject, " Bulfinch's Mythology ," and it remains a popular choice for educating students on the subject today. At nearly 500 pages, this hefty tome covers all the classic Greek, Roman, and Norse myths in one place, from the journeys of Odysseus and the Trojan War to Cupid and Psyche.

books assigned to read in high school

#48. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou's Autobiography, #1)

- Author: Maya Angelou - Score: 4,153 - Average rating: 4.28 (based on 492,982 ratings)

In the first of her seven memoirs, " I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings ," Maya Angelou speaks of her early life growing up in the South, including the abuse and racism she faced. Before this, Angelou was known as a poet but was encouraged to try her hand at long-form writing following a party she attended with the legendary James Baldwin. This book sold 1 million copies, was nominated for a National Book Award, and spent more than two years on the New York Times bestseller list.

books assigned to read in high school

#47. Oedipus Rex (The Theban Plays, #1)

- Author: Sophocles - Score: 4,211 - Average rating: 3.72 (based on 200,721 ratings)

The tragic Greek play " Oedipus Rex " tells the shocking tale of King Oedipus, who unknowingly kills his father and marries his mother. The work of Sophocles has inspired many others across disciplines, including Igor Stravinsky's 1920s opera of the same name. Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic concept of the Oedipus complex , a theory that children are sexually attracted to their opposite-sex parent, also derived from this work.

books assigned to read in high school

#46. Moby-Dick or, the Whale

- Author: Herman Melville - Score: 4,240 - Average rating: 3.53 (based on 528,908 ratings)

Herman Melville's "Moby-Dick or, the Whale"—the lengthy tale of a sea captain on the hunt for this great beast—was inspired by a real-life sperm whale attack that sank the Essex in 1820. Although the book sold less than 3,000 copies during Melville's lifetime, it is now considered an American classic. In September 2022, one collector paid a whopping $327,600 to obtain an 1853 edition of the novel.

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books assigned to read in high school

#45. The Pearl

- Author: John Steinbeck - Score: 4,421 - Average rating: 3.51 (based on 218,730 ratings)

John Steinbeck's "The Pearl" tells the story of Kino, a poor diver trying to support his family by gathering pearls from gulf beds. He is only barely scraping by until he happens upon a giant pearl. Kino thinks this discovery will finally provide him with the financial comfort and security he has been seeking, but it ultimately brings disaster. The story addresses the reader's relationship to nature, the human need for connection, and the consequences of resisting injustice.

books assigned to read in high school

#44. The Importance of Being Earnest

- Author: Oscar Wilde - Score: 4,540 - Average rating: 4.18 (based on 345,903 ratings)

This comedic play by Oscar Wilde takes a satiric look at Victorian social values while following two men—Jack Worthing and Algernon Moncrieff—as they tell lies to bring some excitement to their lives. "The Importance of Being Earnest" was Wilde's final play , and some consider it his masterpiece .

books assigned to read in high school

#43. The Red Badge of Courage

- Author: Stephen Crane - Score: 4,752 - Average rating: 3.28 (based on 99,854 ratings)

In "The Red Badge of Courage," Henry Fleming enlists in the Union Army, enticed by visions of glory. When the reality of war and battle sets in, Fleming retreats in fear. In the end, he faces his cowardice and rises to leadership. This American war novel was published in 1895 and is so authentic that it's easy to believe the author—born after the Civil War ended—was himself a veteran.

books assigned to read in high school

#42. The Taming of the Shrew

- Author: William Shakespeare - Score: 4,822 - Average rating: 3.77 (based on 164,742 ratings)

This five-act comedy tells the story of the courtship of the headstrong Katherine and the money-grubbing Petruchio, who is determined to subdue Katherine and make her his wife. After the wedding, Petruchio drags his new wife through the mud to their new home in the country. He proceeds to starve and deprive her of sleep to make his new bride submissive. The play, one of Shakespeare's most popular, has been both criticized for its abusive and misogynistic attitude toward women and praised as a challenging view of how women are supposed to behave.

books assigned to read in high school

#41. Slaughterhouse-Five

- Author: Kurt Vonnegut Jr. - Score: 4,858 - Average rating: 4.09 (based on 1,284,145 ratings)

In "Slaughterhouse-Five," Kurt Vonnegut tells the story of Billy Pilgrim—based on a real American soldier—who is "unstuck in time." He travels throughout the timeline of his life in a nonlinear fashion, forced to relive certain moments. He is first pulled out after he is drafted and captured in Germany during World War II. The book, which explores how humankind repeats history, has been banned or challenged in classrooms throughout the United States. It even landed in the Supreme Court in 1982 in Board of Education v. Pico , and the court held that banning the book violated the First Amendment.

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books assigned to read in high school

#40. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

- Author: Mark Twain - Score: 5,170 - Average rating: 3.92 (based on 879,567 ratings)

"The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" takes place in the fictional town of St. Petersburg, Missouri, during the 1840s. Tom Sawyer and his friend Huck Finn witness a murder by Joe. After the boys stay silent, the wrong man is accused of the crime. When they flee, the whole town presumes them dead, and the boys end up attending their own funerals. Mark Twain's portrayal of Sawyer and Finn challenges the idyllic American view of childhood, instead showing children as fallible human beings with imperfections like anyone else.

books assigned to read in high school

#39. Crime and Punishment

- Author: Fyodor Dostoevsky - Score: 5,537 - Average rating: 4.25 (based on 798,073 ratings)

This Russian classic, published in 1886, tells the story of a former student named Rodion Raskolnikov, who is now impoverished and on the verge of mental instability. To get money—and to demonstrate his exceptionalness—he comes up with a murderous plan to kill a pawnbroker. Considered one of the first psychological novels , "Crime and Punishment" is also quite political as it explores the character's pull toward liberal views and his rebellion against them.

books assigned to read in high school

#38. A Separate Peace

- Author: John Knowles - Score: 5,561 - Average rating: 3.59 (based on 209,325 ratings)

In "A Separate Peace," John Knowles explores the friendship of two young men—the quiet, intellectual Gene Forrester and his extroverted, athletic friend Finny. Gene lives vicariously through Finny, but his jealousy ultimately ends in tragedy after he commits a subtle act of violence . The book examines themes of envy and the need to achieve.

books assigned to read in high school

#37. Death of a Salesman

- Author: Arthur Miller - Score: 6,178 - Average rating: 3.56 (based on 217,183 ratings)

Arthur Miller introduces readers to an aging Willy Loman , a traveling salesman nearing the end of his career. Loman decides he's tired of driving for work and asks for an office job in New York City, believing he is vital to the company. His boss ends up firing him. Loman is also faced with the fact that his son, Biff, is not as successful in life as he had hoped.

Ultimately, Loman takes his own life so his son can have the insurance money to jump-start a better life. After his death, only Loman's family attends his funeral. "Death of a Salesman" won the 1949 Pulitzer Prize for drama.

books assigned to read in high school

#36. The Little Prince

- Author: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry - Score: 6,838 - Average rating: 4.32 (based on 1,871,036 ratings)

In "The Little Prince," a pilot whose plane has crashed in the Sahara desert meets a young boy from outer space. The boy is traveling from planet to planet in search of friendship. On the boy's home—an asteroid—he lived alone, accompanied only by a solitary rose. Once on Earth, the boy meets a wise fox who tells him he can only see clearly with his heart . The book's somber themes of imagination and adulthood have resonated with children and adults alike since it was published—it is now one of the most translated books of all time.

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books assigned to read in high school

#35. The Old Man and the Sea

- Author: Ernest Hemingway - Score: 6,848 - Average rating: 3.80 (based on 1,036,482 ratings)

"The Old Man and the Sea" was Ernest Hemingway's final major work. The story follows an old man who catches a large fish, only to have it eaten by sharks before he can get it back to shore. Although many may see symbolism about life and aging in the book, Hemingway said there wasn't a deeper meaning in the prose.

books assigned to read in high school

#34. The Canterbury Tales

- Author: Geoffrey Chaucer - Score: 6,904 - Average rating: 3.52 (based on 211,378 ratings)

"The Canterbury Tales," written by Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century, was one of the first major works of English literature. The story follows a group of pilgrims who tell tales during their journey from London to Canterbury Cathedral. The cast of characters—including a carpenter, cook, and knight, among others—paints a varied picture of 14th-century society. The stories  inspired the modern film "A Knight's Tale," starring Heath Ledger as a poor knight and Paul Bettany as Chaucer.

books assigned to read in high school

#33. Othello

- Author: William Shakespeare - Score: 6,966 - Average rating: 3.89 (based on 363,620 ratings)

Shakespeare wrote "Othello" in the early 17th century. The play tells the tragic story of Othello—a Moor and general in the Venetian army, and Iago—a traitorous low-ranking officer. Shakespeare tackles themes of racism, betrayal, and jealousy. While he refers to Othello as "Black," Shakespeare most likely meant he was darker-skinned than most Englishmen at the time and not necessarily of African descent.

books assigned to read in high school

#32. Flowers for Algernon

- Author: Daniel Keyes - Score: 7,235 - Average rating: 4.18 (based on 597,740 ratings)

The main character in "Flowers for Algernon" is Charlie Gordon, a man of low intelligence who becomes a genius after undergoing an experimental procedure. The experiment has already been performed on a lab mouse named Algernon. Gordon's intelligence opens his eyes to things he's never understood before, but he eventually loses his newly acquired knowledge. The mouse, who Gordon remembers fondly, dies. Daniel Keyes wrote the book after realizing his education was causing a rift between him and his loved ones, making him wonder what it would be like if someone's intelligence could be increased.

books assigned to read in high school

#31. Beowulf

- Author: Unknown - Score: 7,844 - Average rating: 3.47 (based on 283,839 ratings)

"Beowulf" is an epic poem —an original manuscript copy is housed in the British Library—of 3,000 lines. It was written in Old English somewhere between A.D. 700 and 1000 and tells the story of Beowulf, a nobleman and warrior in Sweden who is sent to Denmark to fight a swamp monster called Grendel.

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books assigned to read in high school

#30. A Tale of Two Cities

- Author: Charles Dickens - Score: 8,085 - Average rating: 3.86 (based on 901,761 ratings)

"A Tale of Two Cities" famously starts: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…" Set in the late 1700s, Charles Dickens vividly writes about the time leading up to and during the French Revolution. The historical novel describes death and despair but also touches on themes of redemption.

books assigned to read in high school

#29. Wuthering Heights

- Author: Emily Brontë - Score: 8,214 - Average rating: 3.88 (based on 1,651,158 ratings)

"Wuthering Heights," published in 1847, was the first and only novel by Emily Brontë, who died a year later at 30. Brontë tells the tragic love story between Heathcliff, an orphan, and Catherine, his wealthy benefactor's daughter. Considered a classic in English literature, the novel shows readers how passionate and destructive love can be.

books assigned to read in high school

#28. The Hobbit (The Lord of the Rings, #0)

- Author: J.R.R. Tolkien - Score: 8,552 - Average rating: 4.28 (based on 3,583,681 ratings)

" The Hobbit " is the story of Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit who sets off on a journey through the fictional world of Middle-earth in search of adventure and treasure. J.R.R. Tolkien originally wrote this book for his own kids, and it was an instant success in the children's book market. It also grew a keen following with older readers alongside the release of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy in the 1960s, when it offered a great reprieve from the tumult of the times, and the big screen adaptation in the early 2000s.

books assigned to read in high school

#27. A Midsummer Night's Dream

- Author: William Shakespeare - Score: 8,974 - Average rating: 3.95 (based on 507,482 ratings)

Like many of Shakespeare's plays, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" explores the theme of love. This comedy shows the events that surround the marriage of Theseus, the duke of Athens, to Hippolyta, a former Amazon queen. The play also shares the stories of several other lovers influenced by the fairies who live in the forest near the wedding. The play is a favorite for actors and audiences, even today.

books assigned to read in high school

#26. The Grapes of Wrath

- Author: John Steinbeck - Score: 9,047 - Average rating: 3.99 (based on 852,960 ratings)

"The Grapes of Wrath" is considered a great American novel partly because it brought to light the destruction and despair caused by the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. The story follows Tom Joad after he is released from prison to find his family's Oklahoma farmstead empty and destroyed. Joad and his family later set off for a new life in California, only to face struggles along the way. The book, which focuses on hard work, won a  Pulitzer Prize  in 1940.

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books assigned to read in high school

#25. Great Expectations

- Author: Charles Dickens - Score: 9,647 - Average rating: 3.79 (based on 751,833 ratings)

This Charles Dickens classic tells the story of Pip, an orphan who gets a chance at a better life through an anonymous benefactor. The plot mostly centers around Pip's regular visits to Miss Havisham, a wealthy recluse, and his love for her adopted daughter Estella, who is cold toward Pip until years later. Many consider the novel a great masterpiece .

books assigned to read in high school

#24. Frankenstein: The 1818 Text

- Author: Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley - Score: 10,277 - Average rating: 3.85 (based on 1,435,457 ratings)

At just 20 , Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley created what is often labeled as the first science fiction novel : "Frankenstein." While staying with a group of literary comrades, Lord Byron challenged his fellow writers to craft ghost stories. Shelley's story was sparked by a nightmare that ultimately became the classic novel about a mad scientist who created a monster from the body parts of corpses, then brought the creature to life.

books assigned to read in high school

#23. Julius Caesar

- Author: William Shakespeare - Score: 10,472 - Average rating: 3.70 (based on 191,622 ratings)

Shakespeare takes on history with "Julius Caesar," a tragic story of power and betrayal. Brutus, who worked closely with Caesar, joined his fellow conspirators to assassinate Caesar to save the republic from a tyrannical leader. The events had the opposite effect when, only two years later, Caesar's grandnephew was crowned the first emperor of Rome. The play marked a political shift in Shakespeare's writing.

books assigned to read in high school

#22. The Outsiders

- Author: S.E. Hinton - Score: 10,564 - Average rating: 4.12 (based on 1,193,939 ratings)

S.E. Hinton introduced readers to 14-year-old Ponyboy Curtis in "The Outsiders," a novel she started to write when she was 16. The plot centers around two rival gangs: the lower-class Greasers and the well-off Socials. It touches on teen angst , including the frustrations young people have when they can't rely on adults to change things while also not knowing how to fix things themselves. Hinton's publishers encouraged her to publish under her initials because they didn't think the public would respect a book about teenage boys by someone with the feminine name of Susan Eloise Hinton.

books assigned to read in high school

#21. Brave New World

- Author: Aldous Huxley - Score: 10,853 - Average rating: 3.99 (based on 1,711,789 ratings)

In "Brave New World," published in 1932, Aldous Huxley paints a picture of a dystopian future where people consume pills called soma to get a sense of instant bliss without side effects. Emotions, individuality, and lasting relationships aren't allowed. A preordained class system is decided at the embryonic stage, with certain people getting hormones for peak mental and athletic fitness. Some historians believe the book's plot could represent the future in the next 100 years.

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books assigned to read in high school

#20. Night (The Night Trilogy, #1)

- Author: Elie Wiesel - Score: 11,080 - Average rating: 4.36 (based on 1,150,070 ratings)

"Night," the first in a trilogy of books, is the most well-known of the more than 50 works Elie Wiesel produced in his lifetime. In just over 100 pages, Wiesel recounts his experiences at the Auschwitz and Buchenwald concentration camps during the Holocaust—a history he felt compelled to share, as he stated in his 1986 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech , "Because, if we forget, we are guilty, we are accomplices." The impact of this book has only grown since its publication in 1956, with educators teaching the book in schools for decades and book sales soaring alongside current events, including Wiesel's death in July 2016.

books assigned to read in high school

#19. The Crucible

- Author: Arthur Miller - Score: 11,619 - Average rating: 3.60 (based on 380,466 ratings)

This 1953 play is a dramatized version of the Salem witch trials of the late 1600s. In the novel, a group of young girls are dancing in the forest; when caught, they fake illness and shift blame to avoid punishment. Their lies set off witchcraft accusations throughout the town. Arthur Miller wrote "The Crucible" to protest the actions of Sen. Joseph McCarthy , who set up a committee in the early 1950s to investigate and prosecute the Communists he thought had infiltrated the government. It won the 1953 Tony Award for Best Play.

books assigned to read in high school

#18. The Giver (The Giver, #1)

- Author: Lois Lowry - Score: 11,635 - Average rating: 4.13 (based on 2,238,142 ratings)

" The Giver " is the dystopian tale of a boy chosen to hold one of the most difficult and important professions in his community—the keeper of all memories from the time before, including the pain and difficulties that have been erased from the seemingly utopian world around them. In 1994, Lois Lowry was awarded the Newbery Medal —a prestigious award for children's literature in the United States—for the first installation of her book quartet. The book's complicated themes of racism, religion, and politics lend themselves more to older readers, creating rich discussion in high school classrooms.

books assigned to read in high school

#17. Jane Eyre

- Author: Charlotte Brontë - Score: 11,990 - Average rating: 4.14 (based on 1,941,542 ratings)

Charlotte Brontë—sister to Emily—speaks directly to the reader in "Jane Eyre." The Victorian novel follows the headstrong Jane, an orphan who lives with her aunt and cousins, on her quest to find her identity and true love. The novel, marketed as an autobiography and published in 1847 under the pen name Currer Bell, is written in the first person and introduces " the concept of the self " in writing.

books assigned to read in high school

#16. Fahrenheit 451

- Author: Ray Bradbury - Score: 12,468 - Average rating: 3.97 (based on 2,162,063 ratings)

Ray Bradbury describes a futuristic world where books are banned and burned. Guy Montag, one firefighter tasked with extinguishing the books, questions the practice. When Bradbury wrote the classic in the 1950s, television sets were becoming ubiquitous in American households. The theme of the book was a warning about how mass media could interfere with people's ability or desire to think critically, a theme that many think resonates with the social media-obsessed world of today.

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books assigned to read in high school

#15. Pride and Prejudice

- Author: Jane Austen - Score: 13,486 - Average rating: 4.28 (based on 3,854,915 ratings)

Published in 1813, "Pride and Prejudice" was Jane Austen's second novel. The story follows the will-they-won't-they relationship between the wealthy Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, who comes from meager means. Throughout the chapters, both change for the better as they fall in love. The book has inspired at least  a dozen or more  movie and television adaptations.

books assigned to read in high school

#14. The Odyssey

- Author: Homer - Score: 15,087 - Average rating: 3.79 (based on 1,001,633 ratings)

"The Odyssey," a Greek epic poem , follows Odysseus as he travels back to the island of Ithaca after fighting in the war at Troy—something addressed in Homer's poem "The Iliad." When he returns home, he and his son, Telemachus, kill all the men trying to marry Odysseus's wife, Penelope. In the end, Athena, the goddess of wisdom, victory, and war, intervenes. Like many Greek myths, it focuses on themes of love, courage, and revenge.

books assigned to read in high school

#13. The Diary of a Young Girl

- Author: Anne Frank - Score: 15,739 - Average rating: 4.18 (based on 3,425,782 ratings)

In 1944, a young Anne Frank recorded her thoughts and feelings as she and other Jewish citizens hid from the German Nazis during World War II. The coming-of-age diary, which chronicles Frank's time hiding in the Secret Annex while she became a young woman, has been translated into 70 languages. While she and most of her family were killed, her father survived and helped publish her work, making it possible for millions to learn her story.

books assigned to read in high school

#12. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

- Author: Mark Twain - Score: 16,638 - Average rating: 3.83 (based on 1,228,955 ratings)

Huckleberry Finn is the main character in this follow-up novel to "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer." The book explores themes of racism as Huck Finn floats down the Mississippi River with a man escaping slavery. Like Huck at the end of his tale, Twain changed his views on slavery and rejected it as an institution.

books assigned to read in high school

- Author: George Orwell - Score: 17,337 - Average rating: 4.19 (based on 4,095,733 ratings)

George Orwell describes a dystopian future rife with war and one where the government—led by Big Brother—controls the truth and snuffs out individual thought. The protagonist, Winston Smith, becomes disillusioned with the Party, and he rebels against it. Although it was published in 1949, the novel had a resurgence in 2017.

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books assigned to read in high school

#10. The Scarlet Letter

- Author: Nathaniel Hawthorne - Score: 17,684 - Average rating: 3.43 (based on 814,235 ratings)

Nathaniel Hawthorne published "The Scarlet Letter" in 1850. In the novel, based on historical events , readers follow the story of Hester Prynne, a woman who is forced to wear a red "A" on her clothes after she conceives a child out of wedlock. She bears the punishment alone when she refuses to name the baby's father. Her character marked one of the first where a strong woman was the protagonist . Hawthorne's novel also touches on themes of hypocrisy, shame, guilt, and love.

books assigned to read in high school

- Author: William Shakespeare - Score: 19,419 - Average rating: 4.03 (based on 875,058 ratings)

Hamlet, the prince of Denmark, becomes vengeful after attending his father's funeral, only to find his mother has remarried Claudius, his uncle. The stepfather crowns himself king, a role that should have gone to Hamlet. The prince finds out his father was murdered, after which he kills the new king. Ambiguity runs through the play and the character of Hamlet, whose visions of ghosts are up for interpretation—are they real or a figment of the troubled man's imagination? The tragedy, which launched the famous line "To be, or not to be… " shines a light on some of the worst traits of humanity . Some consider the play Shakespeare's greatest work .

books assigned to read in high school

#8. The Catcher in the Rye

- Author: J.D. Salinger - Score: 19,450 - Average rating: 3.81 (based on 3,262,066 ratings)

J.D. Salinger aptly captures teen angst in "The Catcher in the Rye" when the reader gets a look at three days in the life of its narrator, the 16-year-old Holden Caulfield. The book was an instant success, but some schools have banned it from their libraries and reading lists, citing vulgarity and sexual content.

books assigned to read in high school

#7. Of Mice and Men

- Author: John Steinbeck - Score: 19,958 - Average rating: 3.88 (based on 2,350,603 ratings)

"Of Mice and Men" tells the story of George and his simple-minded friend Lennie. The two have to get new jobs on a ranch because of some trouble in Lennie's past. The novel, set during the Great Depression, tackles topics of poverty, sexism, and racism .

books assigned to read in high school

#6. Macbeth

- Author: William Shakespeare - Score: 21,256 - Average rating: 3.90 (based on 822,057 ratings)

Another Shakespeare classic, "Macbeth" portrays the weakness of humanity. The character of Macbeth receives a prophecy that he will one day become king of Scotland. His unchecked ambition ends in murder; Macbeth kills King Duncan to steal the throne for himself. It shows the destructive influence of political ambition and pursuing power for its own sake.

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books assigned to read in high school

#5. Animal Farm

- Author: George Orwell - Score: 22,478 - Average rating: 3.98 (based on 3,491,043 ratings)

A group of farm animals organizes a revolt after they realize their master, Mr. Jones, is mistreating them and offering them nothing in return for their work. When they challenge the leadership, they are disciplined for speaking out. This classic isn't about animal rights. It is a larger critique of Soviet Communism . Orwell wrote it as an attack against Stalinism in Russia .

books assigned to read in high school

#4. Lord of the Flies

- Author: William Golding - Score: 24,079 - Average rating: 3.69 (based on 2,692,219 ratings)

"Lord of the Flies" tells the alarming story of a group of young boys who survive a plane crash, only to descend into tribalism on the island where they landed. Two of the boys—Ralph and Jack—clash in their pursuit of leadership. The novel, which has been challenged in schools , shows how struggles for power based on fear and division can result in a collapse of social order, themes that might seem relevant in the current fraught political climate.

books assigned to read in high school

#3. The Great Gatsby

- Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald - Score: 29,912 - Average rating: 3.93 (based on 4,737,607 ratings)

Nick Carraway, a Midwest transplant and Yale graduate, moves to West Egg, Long Island, and enters a world of extravagance when he becomes entangled with millionaire Jay Gatsby and socialite Daisy Buchanan. The novel is viewed as a cautionary tale about achieving the American dream of wealth and excess.

books assigned to read in high school

#2. Romeo and Juliet

- Author: William Shakespeare - Score: 34,901 - Average rating: 3.74 (based on 2,430,511 ratings)

Two star-crossed lovers meet and perish in this tragedy. Juliet, a Capulet, falls in love with Romeo, a Montague. Because their families are rivals, they are forbidden to marry. They secretly wed before misfortune leads to their deaths. Losing their children inspires peace among the families. Some critics claim the play's childish view of love hasn't stood the test of time, but others think the story is multilayered and deserves its classic status.

books assigned to read in high school

#1. To Kill a Mockingbird

- Author: Harper Lee - Score: 44,390 - Average rating: 4.27 (based on 5,584,470 ratings)

Harper Lee's first novel, published in 1960, tackles issues of racial and social injustice in the South. Set in Alabama, it introduces readers to Atticus Finch, a lawyer who defends a Black man accused of sexually assaulting a white woman. The point-of-view comes from Atticcus' daughter, Scout, while Boo Radley, their reclusive neighbor, adds another dimension to this classic story of racism and childhood. Lee's work won her a Pulitzer Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Because of some racial language, the book has been challenged in many schools throughout America.

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20 Indispensable High School Reads

We asked our community which works of literature were must-reads for high schoolers. Here are your top picks.

Image of the covers of the books in the list

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The final cut of our list of indispensable high school reads—culled from reader comments—is dominated by perennials like George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye . The five most popular entries were all published within 15 years of each other, and none were published later than Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird in 1960. Only three of the works on the list could be considered recent, appearing within the last 20 years: Stephen Chbosky’s epistolary novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower (1999); Marjane Satrapi’s graphic memoir Persepolis , about growing up during the Iranian Revolution (2000–03); and Cormac McCarthy’s brutal, dark novel The Road (2006).

The specter of World War II, with its themes of totalitarianism, social fragmentation, mass surveillance, and the decline of individual freedom, looms over many of the novels. Dystopian novels form a major category: Orwell’s Animal Farm , William Golding’s allegory The Lord of the Flies , Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World , Kurt Vonnegut’s absurdist comedy Slaughterhouse-Five , Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale , and McCarthy’s The Road join Nineteen Eighty-Four here. Thinking back on my days as a high school English teacher, it feels like I missed an opportunity to teach dystopia as a theme. There’s a wealth of material to draw from—and it’s both high quality and accessible to a broad range of high school readers.

A recurring pedagogical issue emerged as teachers joined the conversation: How should educators balance challenging books—works by Shakespeare, for example—with the students’ desire for choice? How can teachers ensure rich, shared learning opportunities without putting their students off reading forever? These aren’t idle concerns. If your goal is to nurture a lifelong love of reading, a dogmatic reliance on the classics appears to be catastrophic.

You can read some devastating student feedback about choice-less classrooms in the Edutopia post “ Start a Reading Revolution .” And as literacy educator Kelly Gallagher, the author of Readicide , recently tweeted : “For the 3rd year in a row, 90%+ of my seniors have admitted they have fake read their way to the 12th grade. Schools must change!” I asked a similar question of my freshmen English classes many years ago, and got the same dispiriting response. Almost none of my incoming freshmen had finished a book in the previous three years. For an approach to balancing student choice with curated texts, read Brian Sztabnik’s recent Edutopia post “ Igniting a Passion for Reading .”

The List of Indispensable Books

1. To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee’s seminal coming-of-age story set in the fictional southern town of Maycomb, Alabama. Primary themes of interest to high schoolers: racial injustice, moral and spiritual growth, courage and integrity, innocence and experience.

2. Nineteen Eighty-Four George Orwell’s vision of a totalitarian future, not long after the Atomic Wars have reduced the geopolitical map to three superstates: Eurasia, Oceania, and Eastasia. Primary themes of interest to high schoolers: totalitarianism and state power, surveillance, individual freedom, the nature of truth, the power of propaganda.

3. Lord of the Flies William Golding’s tale of child castaways who establish a violent social order on a deserted island. Primary themes of interest to high schoolers: civilization and governance, social and moral order, savagery and primitivism, cruelty, leadership, injustice.

4. Animal Farm George Orwell’s allegory tracing the formation of Soviet Russia. Primary themes of interest to high schoolers: totalitarianism and state power, individual freedom, the mutability of historical truth, the power of propaganda, the cult of personality.

5. Catcher in the Rye The reclusive J.D. Salinger’s most popular novel, told through the eyes of the notoriously irreverent teenager Holden Caulfield. Primary themes of interest to high schoolers: unreliable narrators, individuality and identity, social alienation and rebellion, social mores and rules.

6. The Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck’s Depression-era classic, which follows the travels of impoverished Dust Bowl refugees as they flee westward to California. Primary themes of interest to high schoolers: wealth and poverty, injustice, social and political policy and governance, biblical themes such as judgment and redemption.

7. Invisible Man Ralph Ellison’s meditation on the effects of race, told from the perspective of an African American narrator rendered invisible by his skin color. Primary themes of interest to high schoolers: race and racial injustice, identity, ideology and belief systems.

8. The Alchemist Paulo Coelho’s tale of a Spanish shepherd who hopes to find his destiny on a journey to Egypt. Primary themes of interest to high schoolers: adventure and courage, hope, destiny.

9. Slaughterhouse-Five Kurt Vonnegut’s dark, absurdist comedy centered on the devastating firebombing of Dresden, Germany, during World War II. Primary themes of interest to high schoolers: nonlinear narratives, unreliable narrators, existentialism and absurdism, the true nature of warfare.

10. The Handmaid’s Tale Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel depicting the rise, in the United States, of a theocratic government dedicated to the oppression of women. Primary themes of interest to high schoolers: totalitarianism, patriarchy and misogyny, surveillance, politics and governance, gender roles.

11. The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald’s lyrical, Jazz Age novel about the idealist James Gatsby—and the nature of the American Dream. Primary themes of interest to high schoolers: the Jazz Age, the American Dream, wealth and class, idealism.

12. The Bluest Eye Toni Morrison’s story of Pecola Breedlove, a young, often-abused African American girl who dreams of having blue eyes—a tangible sign of acceptance in a world dominated by white conceptions of beauty and belonging. Primary themes of interest to high schoolers: identity, race and racial injustice, the effects of abuse, beauty and ugliness, insanity.

13. Of Mice and Men John Steinbeck’s story of an unlikely—and tragically fated—friendship between two men of remarkably different intellectual abilities. Primary themes of interest to high schoolers: friendship and loyalty, character, cruelty and mercy.

14. Macbeth Shakespeare’s portrait of an ambitious Scottish warrior who wants to be king—and is goaded to murder to achieve his goal. Primary themes of interest to high schoolers: the nature of evil, power and ambition, insanity, chaos and disorder.

15. Brave New World Aldous Huxley’s slim novel envisioning a future “utopia” with perverse qualities—as the human race succumbs to overdoses of pleasure, amusement, and hedonism. Primary themes of interest to high schoolers: genetic manipulation, state power, drug use, individualism and society.

16. The Road Cormac McCarthy’s bleak novel about a boy and his father seeking safety in a post-apocalyptic world. Primary themes of interest to high schoolers: good and evil, death, apocalypse, cruelty, hope and hopelessness.

17. Their Eyes Were Watching God Zora Neale Hurston’s heavily vernacular novel depicting the life of Janie Crawford, an African American woman in the Jim Crow South at the turn of the 20th century. Primary themes of interest to high schoolers: gender roles, race and racial injustice, the effects of abuse, the representation of American dialects, the nature of love.

18. The Perks of Being a Wallflower Stephen Chbosky’s epistolary, coming-of-age novel about an introverted, emotionally scarred high school freshman named Charlie. Primary themes of interest to high schoolers: introverts and extroverts, teen romance, alcohol and drug use, the effects of abuse.

19. Persepolis Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel, an autobiography that describes growing up in Tehran, Iran, during the era of the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Primary themes of interest to high schoolers: graphic novels, Iranian culture, politics and religion, war.

20. Night Elie Wiesel’s spare memoir-novel based on his experiences in concentration camps during the Holocaust. Primary themes of interest to high schoolers: good and evil, the Holocaust, faith and faithlessness, the Jewish experience.

Please feel free to suggest more indispensable high school reads—we’d love to add to the list. After all, more choice can only assist teachers engaged in the essential, never-ending work of helping students master literacy. And let us know if we should start lists for elementary and middle school too . . . The author of this article is the chief content officer at Edutopia. You can follow him on Twitter @smerrill777 .

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Best Book Lists, Award Aggregation, & Book Data

The Best Books To Read In High School

High School Books

“What are the best books to read in High School?” We looked at 371 of the top books, aggregating and ranking them so we could answer that very question!

The top 28 books, all appearing on 4 or more, “Best High School” book lists, are ranked below by how many times they appear. The books include images, descriptions, and links. The remaining 225+ books, as well as the lists we used, are in alphabetical order on the bottom of the page.

For more Best School Year book lists, check below!

The Best Books To Read In Kindergarten The Best Books To Read In 1st Grade The Best Books To Read In 2nd Grade The Best Books To Read In 3rd Grade The Best Books To Read In 4th Grade The Best Books To Read In 5th Grade The Best Books To Read In 6th Grade The Best Books To Read In 7th Grade The Best Books To Read In 8th Grade The Best Books To Read As A Freshman In High School The Best Books To Read In High School The Best Books To Read After High School Or Before College The Best Books To Read In College

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Top High School Book List

28 .) catch-22 by joseph heller.

books assigned to read in high school

Lists It Appears On:

“Fifty years after its original publication, Catch-22 remains a cornerstone of American literature and one of the funniest—and most celebrated—books of all time. In recent years it has been named to “best novels” lists by Time, Newsweek, the Modern Library, and the London Observer. Set in Italy during World War II, this is the story of the incomparable, malingering bombardier, Yossarian, a hero who is furious because thousands of people he has never met are trying to kill him. But his real problem is not the enemy—it is his own army, which keeps increasing the number of missions the men must fly to complete their service. Yet if Yossarian makes any attempt to excuse himself from the perilous missions he’s assigned, he’ll be in violation of Catch-22, a hilariously sinister bureaucratic rule: a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he makes a formal request to be removed from duty, he is proven sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved. “

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27 .) Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

books assigned to read in high school

Mary Shelley’s groundbreaking classic—begun as a ghost story for friends—is a potent blend of science fiction and horror that has inspired countless movie and other adaptations. Nothing, however, equals the depth and beauty of Shelley’s original, which emains as relevant as ever. In his arrogance, Dr. Victor Frankenstein dreams of discovering the very secret of life…and he succeeds, bringing a new creature into existence. But should man ever play God—and if he does, what does he owe his creation?

26 .) Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

books assigned to read in high school

Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations charts the course of orphan Pip Pirrip’s life as it is transformed by a vast, mysterious inheritance. A terrifying encounter with the escaped convict Abel Magwitch in a graveyard on the wild Kent marshes; a summons to meet the bitter, decrepit Miss Havisham and her beautiful, cold-hearted ward Estella at Satis House; the sudden generosity of a mysterious benefactor – these form a series of events that change the orphaned Pip’s life forever, and he eagerly abandons his humble station as an apprentice to blacksmith Joe Gargery, beginning a new life as a gentleman. Charles Dickens’s haunting late novel depicts Pip’s education and development through adversity as he discovers the true nature of his identity, and his ‘great expectations’. This definitive version uses the text from the first published edition of 1861. It includes a map of Kent in the early nineteenth century, and appendices on Dickens’s original ending and his working notes, giving readers an illuminating glimpse into the mind of a great novelist at work.

25 .) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

books assigned to read in high school

A novel of intense power and intrigue, Jane Eyre has dazzled generations of readers with its depiction of a woman’s quest for freedom. Having grown up an orphan in the home of her cruel aunt and at a harsh charity school, Jane Eyre becomes an independent and spirited survivor-qualities that serve her well as governess at Thornfield Hall. But when she finds love with her sardonic employer, Rochester, the discovery of his terrible secret forces her to make a choice. Should she stay with him whatever the consequences or follow her convictions, even if it means leaving her beloved? This updated Penguin Classics edition features a new introduction by Brontë scholar and award-winning novelist Stevie Davies, as well as comprehensive notes, a chronology, further reading, and an appendix.

24 .) One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey

books assigned to read in high school

In this classic novel, Ken Kesey’s hero is Randle Patrick McMurphy, a boisterous, brawling, fun-loving rebel who swaggers into the world of a mental hospital and takes over. A lusty, life-affirming fighter, McMurphy rallies the other patients around him by challenging the dictatorship of Nurse Ratched. He promotes gambling in the ward, smuggles in wine and women, and openly defies the rules at every turn. But this defiance, which starts as a sport, soon develops into a grim struggle, an all-out war between two relentless opponents: Nurse Ratched, backed by the full power of authority, and McMurphy, who has only his own indomitable will. What happens when Nurse Ratched uses her ultimate weapon against McMurphy provides the story’s shocking climax.

23 .) Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

books assigned to read in high school

“Persepolis is the story of Satrapi’s unforgettable childhood and coming of age within a large and loving family in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution; of the contradictions between private life and public life in a country plagued by political upheaval; of her high school years in Vienna facing the trials of adolescence far from her family; of her homecoming–both sweet and terrible; and, finally, of her self-imposed exile from her beloved homeland. It is the chronicle of a girlhood and adolescence at once outrageous and familiar, a young life entwined with the history of her country yet filled with the universal trials and joys of growing up. Edgy, searingly observant, and candid, often heartbreaking but threaded throughout with raw humor and hard-earned wisdom–Persepolis is a stunning work from one of the most highly regarded, singularly talented graphic artists at work today.”

22 .) The Lord of the Rings trilogy by JRR Tolkien

books assigned to read in high school

“One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them In ancient times the Rings of Power were crafted by the Elven-smiths, and Sauron, the Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and though he sought it throughout Middle-earth, it remained lost to him. After many ages it fell by chance into the hands of the hobbit Bilbo Baggins. From Sauron’s fastness in the Dark Tower of Mordor, his power spread far and wide. Sauron gathered all the Great Rings to him, but always he searched for the One Ring that would complete his dominion. When Bilbo reached his eleventy-first birthday he disappeared, bequeathing to his young cousin Frodo the Ruling Ring and a perilous quest: to journey across Middle-earth, deep into the shadow of the Dark Lord, and destroy the Ring by casting it into the Cracks of Doom.”

21 .) The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

books assigned to read in high school

“First published in 1850, The Scarlet Letter is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s masterpiece and one of the greatest American novels. Its themes of sin, guilt, and redemption, woven through a story of adultery in the early days of the Massachusetts Colony, are revealed with remarkable psychological penetration and understanding of the human heart. Hester Prynne is the adulteress, forced by the Puritan community to wear a scarlet letter A on the breast of her gown. Arthur Dimmesdale, the minister and the secret father of her child, Pearl, struggles with the agony of conscience and his own weakness. Roger Chillingworth, Hester’s husband, revenges himself on Dimmesdale by calculating assaults on the frail mental state of the conscience-stricken cleric. The result is an American tragedy of stark power and emotional depth that has mesmerized critics and readers for nearly a century and a half.”

20 .) Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

books assigned to read in high school

Things Fall Apart is the first of three novels in Chinua Achebe’s critically acclaimed African Trilogy. It is a classic narrative about Africa’s cataclysmic encounter with Europe as it establishes a colonial presence on the continent. Told through the fictional experiences of Okonkwo, a wealthy and fearless Igbo warrior of Umuofia in the late 1800s, Things Fall Apart explores one man’s futile resistance to the devaluing of his Igbo traditions by British political andreligious forces and his despair as his community capitulates to the powerful new order.

19 .) Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

books assigned to read in high school

Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare early in his career about two young star-crossed lovers whose deaths ultimately reconcile their feuding families.

18 .) Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

books assigned to read in high school

Slaughterhous-Five is one of the world’s great anti-war books. Centering on the infamous fire-bombing of Dresden, Billy Pilgrim’s odyssey through time reflects the mythic journey of our own fractured lives as we search for meaning in what we are afraid to know.

17 .) Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

books assigned to read in high school

“The first ten lies they tell you in high school. “”Speak up for yourself–we want to know what you have to say.”” From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless, outcast, because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. As time passes, she becomes increasingly isolated and practically stops talking altogether. Only her art class offers any solace, and it is through her work on an art project that she is finally able to face what really happened at that terrible party: she was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her. Her healing process has just begun when she has another violent encounter with him. But this time Melinda fights back, refuses to be silent, and thereby achieves a measure of vindication. In Laurie Halse Anderson’s powerful novel, an utterly believable heroine with a bitterly ironic voice delivers a blow to the hypocritical world of high school. She speaks for many a disenfranchised teenager while demonstrating the importance of speaking up for oneself.”

16 .) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

books assigned to read in high school

“It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still. Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement. “

15 .) The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

books assigned to read in high school

The critically acclaimed debut novel from Stephen Chbosky, Perks follows observant “wallflower” Charlie as he charts a course through the strange world between adolescence and adulthood. First dates, family drama, and new friends. Sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Devastating loss, young love, and life on the fringes. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it, Charlie must learn to navigate those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up.

14 .) Animal Farm by George Orwell

books assigned to read in high school

George Orwell’s famous satire of the Soviet Union, in which “all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.

13 .) Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

books assigned to read in high school

“They are an unlikely pair: George is “”small and quick and dark of face””; Lennie, a man of tremendous size, has the mind of a young child. Yet they have formed a “”family,”” clinging together in the face of loneliness and alienation. Laborers in California’s dusty vegetable fields, they hustle work when they can, living a hand-to-mouth existence. For George and Lennie have a plan: to own an acre of land and a shack they can call their own. When they land jobs on a ranch in the Salinas Valley, the fulfillment of their dream seems to be within their grasp. But even George cannot guard Lennie from the provocations of a flirtatious woman, nor predict the consequences of Lennie’s unswerving obedience to the things George taught him.”

12 .) Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

books assigned to read in high school

Few have failed to be charmed by the witty and independent spirit of Elizabeth Bennet in Austen’s beloved classic Pride and Prejudice. When Elizabeth Bennet first meets eligible bachelor Fitzwilliam Darcy, she thinks him arrogant and conceited; he is indifferent to her good looks and lively mind. When she later discovers that Darcy has involved himself in the troubled relationship between his friend Bingley and her beloved sister Jane, she is determined to dislike him more than ever. In the sparkling comedy of manners that follows, Jane Austen shows us the folly of judging by first impressions and superbly evokes the friendships, gossip and snobberies of provincial middle-class life.

11 .) The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

books assigned to read in high school

The novel’s preeminence derives from its wonderfully imaginative re-creation of boyhood adventures along the Mississippi River, its inspired characterization, the author’s remarkable ear for dialogue, and the book’s understated development of serious underlying themes: “natural” man versus “civilized” society, the evils of slavery, the innate value and dignity of human beings, and other topics. Most of all, Huckleberry Finn is a wonderful story, filled with high adventure and unforgettable characters.

10 .) The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

books assigned to read in high school

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, “The Hunger Games,” a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed.

9 .) Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

books assigned to read in high school

“Ray Bradbury’s internationally acclaimed novel Fahrenheit 451 is a masterwork of twentieth-century literature set in a bleak, dystopian future. Guy Montag is a fireman. In his world, where television rules and literature is on the brink of extinction, firemen start fires rather than put them out. His job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden. Montag never questions the destruction and ruin his actions produce, returning each day to his bland life and wife, Mildred, who spends all day with her television “family.” But then he meets an eccentric young neighbor, Clarisse, who introduces him to a past where people didn’t live in fear and to a present where one sees the world through the ideas in books instead of the mindless chatter of television. When Mildred attempts suicide and Clarisse suddenly disappears, Montag begins to question everything he has ever known. He starts hiding books in his home, and when his pilfering is discovered, the fireman has to run for his life.”

8 .) The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

books assigned to read in high school

First published in 1939, Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning epic of the Great Depression chronicles the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s and tells the story of one Oklahoma farm family, the Joads—driven from their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. Out of their trials and their repeated collisions against the hard realities of an America divided into Haves and Have-Nots evolves a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision, elemental yet plainspoken, tragic but ultimately stirring in its human dignity. A portrait of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless, of one man’s fierce reaction to injustice, and of one woman’s stoical strength, the novel captures the horrors of the Great Depression and probes into the very nature of equality and justice in America. At once a naturalistic epic, captivity narrative, road novel, and transcendental gospel, Steinbeck’s powerful landmark novel is perhaps the most American of American Classics.

7 .) Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

books assigned to read in high school

One of the most important and enduring books of the twentieth century, Their Eyes Were Watching God brings to life a Southern love story with the wit and pathos found only in the writing of Zora Neale Hurston. Out of print for almost thirty years—due largely to initial audiences’ rejection of its strong black female protagonist—Hurston’s classic has since its 1978 reissue become perhaps the most widely read and highly acclaimed novel in the canon of African-American literature.

6 .) Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

books assigned to read in high school

Aldous Huxley’s profoundly important classic of world literature, Brave New World is a searching vision of an unequal, technologically-advanced future where humans are genetically bred, socially indoctrinated, and pharmaceutically anesthetized to passively uphold an authoritarian ruling order–all at the cost of our freedom, full humanity, and perhaps also our souls.

5 .) Lord of the Flies by William Golding

books assigned to read in high school

As provocative today as when it was first published in 1954, Lord of the Flies continues to ignite passionate debate with its startling, brutal portrait of human nature. William Golding’s compelling story about a group of very ordinary boys marooned on a coral island has been labeled a parable, an allegory, a myth, a morality tale, a parody, a political treatise, and even a vision of the apocalypse. But above all, it has earned its place as one of the indisputable classics of the twentieth century for readers of any age.

4 .) The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

books assigned to read in high school

“The hero-narrator of THE CATCHER IN THE RYE is an ancient child of sixteen, a native New Yorker named Holden Caulfield. Through circumstances that tend to preclude adult, secondhand description, he leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days. The boy himself is at once too simple and too complex for us to make any final comment about him or his story. Perhaps the safest thing we can say about Holden is that he was born in the world not just strongly attracted to beauty but, almost, hopelessly impaled on it. There are many voices in this novel: children’s voices, adult voices, underground voices–but Holden’s voice is the most eloquent of all. Transcending his own vernacular, yet remaining marvelously faithful to it, he issues a perfectly articulated cry of mixed pain and pleasure. However, like most lovers and clowns and poets of the higher orders, he keeps most of the pain to, and for, himself. The pleasure he gives away, or sets aside, with all his heart. It is there for the reader who can handle it to keep.”

3 .) 1984 by George Orwell

books assigned to read in high school

“Winston Smith toes the Party line, rewriting history to satisfy the demands of the Ministry of Truth. With each lie he writes, Winston grows to hate the Party that seeks power for its own sake and persecutes those who dare to commit thoughtcrimes. But as he starts to think for himself, Winston can’t escape the fact that Big Brother is always watching… A startling and haunting vision of the world, 1984 is so powerful that it is completely convincing from start to finish. No one can deny the influence of this novel, its hold on the imaginations of multiple generations of readers, or the resiliency of its admonitions—a legacy that seems only to grow with the passage of time.”

2 .) The Great Gatbsy by F. Scott Fitzgerald

books assigned to read in high school

In planning his novel, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “I want to write something new – something extraordinary and beautiful and simple and intricately patterned.” Working with anxiety and saw he feeling that it was the supreme test, he committed all his imaginative resources to the project. He eagerly awaited the reception of his masterpiece. T. S. Eliot immediately saw The Great Gatsby for what it was “the first step that American fiction has taken since Henry James,” however, the reviewers and public were not enthusiastic. Only in the subsequent years, after Fitzgerald’s death, has The Great Gatsby come be seen as perhaps the great 20th century American novel, and its protagonist, Jay Gatsby, as one of the truly mythological creations in American culture.

1 .) To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

books assigned to read in high school

One of the best-loved stories of all time, To Kill a Mockingbird has been translated into more than forty languages, sold more than forty million copies worldwide, served as the basis for an enormously popular motion picture, and was voted one of the best novels of the twentieth century by librarians across the country. A gripping, heart-wrenching, and wholly remarkable tale of coming-of-age in a South poisoned by virulent prejudice, it views a world of great beauty and savage inequities through the eyes of a young girl, as her father—a crusading local lawyer—risks everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of a terrible crime.

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High School Reading List for College-Bound Students

The HomeScholar's High School Reading List Will Help Your Teen Prepare for College.

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The High School Reading List - In a Nutshell

Welcome to  The HomeScholar’s high school reading list for college-bound students ! The following selection of books are drawn from a variety of different reading lists, and represent the books that we at The HomeScholar are both familiar with and feel comfortable recommending to college-bound students.

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A great high school reading list can unlock admission, american literature, world literature, high school reading list - reluctant readers, high school reading list - kinesthetic learners, high school reading list - prolific readers, high school reading list - popular literature, click to read my conclusion, the reading list belongs in your homeschool records, a great high school reading list can unlock college admission.

It’s not possible (or even desirable!) for any student to read all the books on every high school reading list, and not every book will be appropriate for every child. However, reading from a broad cross-section of both American and World literature will help prepare your students to understand a variety of different cultures and times, and strengthen their knowledge and understanding of great literature. We hope you enjoy this selection!

A great high school reading list is just one of the ingredients to comprehensive homeschool records that open doors for college admission and scholarships. Let me show you how to create professional records quickly! Click to get the  Comprehensive Record Solution .   This high school reading list contains affiliate links. If you click and buy I make a few pennies, but not enough for a latte.

Cooper, James Fenimore The Deerslayer A young white hunter brought up in the Delaware Indian tribe, has to defend settlers before returning to the Iroquois who have allowed him parole.

Cooper, James Fenimore Last of the Mohicans The story of the adopted son of the Mohicans, and the daughter of a British colonel, during the French and Indian War.

Crane, Stephen The Red Badge of Courage A teenager enlists with the Union Army during the Civil War in the hopes of fulfilling his dreams of glory.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott The Great Gatsby A portrait of the 1920s in America, this is the story of money, greed, excess, and a man in love.

Frank, Pat Alas, Babylon A survival story that takes place after a nuclear attack destroys all civilization except for a small Florida town.

Franklin, Benjamin The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin Written initially to guide his son, Franklin's autobiography is a lively, spellbinding account of his unique and eventful life.

Haley, Alex Roots This book chronicles several generations of a slave family, from a West African youth captured by slave raiders and shipped to America in the 1700s, and concluding with the Civil War.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel The Scarlet Letter Set in Puritan Boston, this book tells the story of a woman who conceives a daughter through an adulterous affair and struggles to create a new life of dignity and repentance.

Hemingway, Ernest A Farewell to Arms The life of an American soldier and a British nurse against the backdrop of the First World War, cynical soldiers, fighting and the displacement of populations.

Keller, Helen The Story of My Life A young woman overcomes the challenges of being both deaf and blind, with the help of her devoted teacher, Anne Sullivan.

Kennedy, John F. Profiles in Courage John F. Kennedy profiles eight of his historical colleagues for their acts of astounding integrity in the face of overwhelming opposition.

Lee, Harper To Kill a Mockingbird Exploration of civil rights and racism in the segregated southern United States of the 1930s.

Lewis, Sinclair Main Street The story of a sophisticated young woman who moves to a small town in the American Midwest in 1912 and struggles against the small-minded culture of the citizens who live there.

London, Jack Call of the Wild In the 19th-century Klondike Gold Rush, a domesticated dog is snatched and sold into a brutal life as a sled dog.

Malcom X, with Alex Haley The Autobiography of Malcom X A narrative of spiritual conversion that outlines a controversial Black Muslim’s philosophy of black pride, black nationalism, and pan-Africanism.

Miller, Arthur Death of a Salesman An introspective dramatic play concerning the expectations we have for our lives, our failings, and our inability to find satisfaction with our place in the world.

Melville, Herman Moby Dick The adventures of a wandering sailor and his voyage on a whale ship commanded by Captain Ahab, whose one purpose is to seek out a great white whale.

Paine, Thomas Common Sense Paine's daring prose paved the way for the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War.

Poe, Edgar Allan Great Tales and Poems Stories and poems from one of the most famous creators of detective stories and supernatural tales.

Potok, Chaim The Chosen Traces the friendship between two Jewish boys growing up in Brooklyn at the end of World War II.

Sinclair, Upton The Jungle Explores the workingman's lot at the turn of the century: the backbreaking labor, the injustices of "wage-slavery," the bewildering chaos of urban life.

Steinbeck, John The Grapes of Wrath This is the tale of a poor family of tenant farmers driven from their Oklahoma home by drought, economic hardship, and the Great Depression.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher Uncle Tom's Cabin A slave whose child is to be sold, escapes her beloved home on a plantation in Kentucky and heads North, avoiding hired slave catchers, aided by the underground railroad.

Twain, Mark The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Huck Finn and his old friend Jim journey down the Mississippi river together.

Twain, Mark The Adventures of Tom Sawyer A humorous and nostalgic book depicting the carefree days of boyhood in a small Midwestern town during the mid-1800's.

Twain, Mark Innocents Abroad An acerbic account of the author’s travels in Europe and the Near East, humorously describing both the places he visited and his fellow passengers on the voyage.

Walker, Alice The Color Purple The story of two African-American sisters, a missionary in Africa, and a child-wife living in the South, told through their letters to each other.

Washington, Booker T. Up From Slavery Autobiography of an influential spokesman and former slave, who became a major figure in the struggle for equal rights.

Wilder, Thornton Our Town A study of life, love, and death in a New England town at the turn of the 20th century.

High School Reading List - World Literature

Austen, Jane Sense and Sensibility This tale of manners and courtship in the 19th-century English countryside follows two sisters; one sensible, and the other impetuous.

Bronte, Charlotte Jane Eyre In this romance and suspense novel, the orphaned governess Jane Eyre has a brooding, moody, wealthy employer with a terrible secret.

Bronte, Emily Wuthering Heights A masterpiece of English romanticism, tells the story of love and revenge.

Carroll, Lewis Alice's Adventures in Wonderland A fantasy about young Alice, who follows a white rabbit down a rabbit hole.

Cervantes, Miguel de Don Quixote An eccentric old gentleman from La Mancha convinces himself that he is a knight. With his portly peasant squire, he sets out "tilting at windmills" to right the wrongs of the world.

Conrad, Joseph Heart of Darkness Recounts a journey into the Congo and reveals the extent to which greed can corrupt a good man.

Dickens, Charles Great Expectations Traces the development of Pip from a boy of shallow aspirations to a man of depth and character.

Dickens, Charles David Copperfield David Copperfield lives through trials and tribulations, first at a boys' school and then as a young man in London before he goes to live with his great-aunt and eventually finds happiness.

Dickens, Charles Tale of Two Cities Set during the French Revolution in the cities of Paris and London, a French aristocrat is accused of spying.

Dostoyevsky, Fyodor The Gambler At a casino in Germany, a Russian family awaits news that a wealthy relative has died, but to their dismay, she arrives and begins gambling away their inheritance.

Dostoevsky, Fyodor Crime and Punishment A poverty-stricken young man is faced with an opportunity to solve his financial problems with one simple but horrifying act: the murder of a pawnbroker.

Frank, Anne The Diary of a Young Girl Traces the life of the Jewish girl who hid with seven other people in an attic for two years in Nazi-occupied Holland, and chronicles her day-to-day life in a diary.

Golding, William Lord of the Flies A group of schoolboys stranded on an island soon revert to the state of primitive man, and engage in a struggle between savagery and civilization.

Hamilton, Edith Mythology Discover the thrilling, enchanting, and fascinating world of Western mythology, from Odysseus's adventure-filled journey to the Norse god Odin's effort to postpone the final day of doom.

Homer The Iliad An epic poem about Achilles’ vengeance against Agamemnon and the city of Troy at the end of the Trojan War. Homer The Odyssey The story of Odysseus' difficulties in returning home after the Trojan War, which was won by the Greeks.

Hugo, Victor Les Miserables Set in 19th century France, this classic novel follows Jean Valjean as he tries to lead a new life after 20 years in prison. A beautiful story of redemption and salvation. The basis of the world's longest running musical.

Huxley, Aldous Brave New World This futuristic novel warns of the dangers of sacrificing freedom and individuality for scientific progress and social stability.

Kafka, Franz Metamorphosis A seemingly typical man wakes up one morning to discover he has been transformed into a gigantic insect.

L'Engle, Madeleine A Wrinkle in Time The story of friends on a dangerous and fantastic journey that will threaten their lives and our universe.

Lewis, C.S. The Screwtape Letters This satirical piece portrays human life from the vantage point of Screwtape, and his correspondence with a novice demon in charge of the damnation of an ordinary young man.

Machiavelli, Niccolo The Prince The world's most famous master plan for seizing and holding power. A disturbingly realistic and prophetic work on what it takes to be a prince...a king...a president.

Marlowe, Christopher Doctor Faustus A well-respected German scholar grows dissatisfied with the limits of traditional forms of knowledge—logic, medicine, law, and religion—and decides that he wants to learn to practice magic.

Milton, John Paradise Lost Often considered the greatest epic in any modern language, this is the story of the revolt of Satan, his banishment from Heaven, and the fall of man and his expulsion from Eden.

Orwell, George Animal Farm Domesticated animals stage a revolt against their cruel master. They soon find they have succeeded in exchanging one form of tyranny for another.

Plato The Republic A monumental work of moral and political philosophy, presented as a dialogue between Socrates and others discussing the notion of a perfect community and the ideal individuals within it.

Remarque, Erich Maria All Quiet on the Western Front Through the eyes and mind of a German private, the reader shares life on the battlefield during World War I.

Scott, Sir Walter Ivanhoe Returning from fighting in the Crusades, the young Saxon knight Ivanhoe must fight to regain the woman he loves and to protect the social order and monarchy of England.

Shelley, Mary W. Frankenstein Tampering with life and death, Dr. Frankenstein pieces together salvaged body parts to create a human monster.

Shakespeare, William Romeo and Juliet The tale of two young star-crossed lovers and their families, who are caught in a destructive web of hatred.

Shakespeare, William Twelfth Night After a shipwreck, twin siblings Viola and Sebastian wash up on the shores of Illyria. A story of mistaken identity and love entanglements.

Sienkiewicz, Henryk Quo Vadis: A Narrative of the Time of Nero This thousand year old masterpiece follows Marcus, a Roman officer in Nero's army, as he falls in love with a Christian woman. The basis of the 1951 movie of the same name.

Solzhenitsyn, Alexander One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich This novel describes the oppression of totalitarian regimes, and the terrors of Stalin's prison camps.

Sophocles Antigone Antigone defies her uncle, the new ruler, which starts a conflict between young and old, woman and man, individual and ruler, family and state.

Stevenson, Robert Louis The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Dr. Jekyll wants to rid his soul of evil, and in doing so creates the monstrous alter ego Mr. Hyde.

Swift, Jonathan Gulliver's Travels Biting satire of British and European society, it follows a shipwrecked castaway encountering fantastical lands and creatures, including the petty, diminutive Lilliputians.

Tocqueville, Alexis de Democracy in America Covering America's call for a free press to its embrace of the capitalist system, this book enlightens, entertains, and endures as a brilliant study of our national government and character.

Tolstoy, Leo Anna Karenina Set against the backdrop of Moscow and St. Petersburg high society in the latter half of the nineteenth century, a woman forsakes her husband for a dashing count and brief happiness.

Tolkien, J.R.R The Hobbit Bilbo Baggins, a respectable, well-to-do hobbit, lives comfortably in his hobbit-hole until the day the wandering wizard Gandalf chooses him to share in an adventure from which he may never return.

Tolstoy, Leo War and Peace Tracks the evolution of five aristocratic families during the Napoleonic wars.

Wallace, Lew Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ A novel about a Jewish charioteer named Judah Ben-Hur and Jesus Christ. I suggest the unabridged version.

Wells, H.G. The Time Machine A time traveler steps out of his time-transport machine in the year 802,700 to find Earth populated by a race of people supported by a slave class.

Wells, H.G. War of the Worlds The first modern tale of alien invasion, this is a story of tentacled Martians attacking the Earth.

Wilde, Oscar The Importance of Being Earnest This is a play about two men who bend the truth in order to add excitement to their lives.

High School Reading List - Reluctant Readers

Crane, Stephen The Red Badge of Courage (Instead of War and Peace) The story of Henry Fleming, a teenager who enlists with the Union Army in the hopes of fulfilling his dreams of glory.

Dostoyevsky, Fyodor The Gambler At a casino in Germany, a Russian family awaits news that a wealthy relative has died, but to their dismay, she arrives and begins gambling away their inheritance at an alarming rate. As fortunes are squandered and gained, lives are increasingly tied to the fickle rules of chance.

Hemingway, Ernest Old Man and the Sea (Instead of Moby Dick) The exciting story of an old Cuban fisherman and his supreme ordeal: a relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream.

London, Jack Call of the Wild Set in Yukon Territory during the 19th-century Klondike Gold Rush, a domesticated dog is snatched and sold into a brutal life as a sled dog, where he struggles to survive.

Melville, Herman Billy Budd (Instead of Moby Dick) The story of an innocent young man unable to defend himself against a wrongful accusation.

Steinbeck, John Of Mice and Men In Depression-era California, two migrant workers dream of better days on a spread of their own, until an act of unintentional violence leads to tragic consequences.

Steinbeck, John The Pearl A young, strong, and poor Mexican-Indian pearl diver must find a way to pay the town doctor to cure his son. Then he discovers an enormous pearl the size of a seagull's egg when out diving.

High School Reading List - Prolific Readers

For kinesthetic learners, have your high school reading list focus on books with active main characters. Again, short books may be helpful, but it’s even more important to choose active main characters, rather than primarily pensive characters. Here are just a few examples

London, Jack Call of the Wild In the extreme conditions of the Yukon during the 19th-century Klondike Gold Rush, a domesticated dog is snatched and sold into a brutal life as a sled dog, where he struggles to adjust and survive the cruel treatment he receives from humans, other dogs, and nature.

Austen, Jane Jane Austen Four Novels Four of her best-loved novels: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Northanger Abbey

Tolkien, J. R. R. J.R.R. Tolkien Boxed Set (The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings) Four novels: The Hobbit, The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King

Dickens, Charles Major Works of Charles Dickens (Penguin Classics set) Great Expectations; Hard Times; Oliver Twist; A Christmas Carol; Bleak House; A Tale of Two Cities

Stockett, Kathryn The Help The story of black maids raising white children in Mississippi during the 1960s civil rights movement.

A Word of Caution

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The Most Commonly Read Books in High School

No matter what type of high school you attend—be it public, private, magnet, charter, religious schools, or even online—reading is going be at the core of your English studies. In today's classrooms, students have a wide range of books to choose from, both modern and classics.

If you compare the readings lists in all schools, you might be surprised to learn that the most commonly read books in all high schools are all very similar. That's right! Course work for private schools and public schools (and every other school) are all very similar. No matter where you go to school, you'll likely study classic authors like Shakespeare and Twain, but some more modern books are appearing on these lists, including The Color Purple and  The Giver.  

Commonly Read High School Books

Here are some of the books that most often appear on high school reading lists:

books assigned to read in high school

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