Four years of required reading

A review of the best and worst books I’ve read throughout high school


Nick Prince, Reporter

Although I’ve read many books throughout my high school career, they can easily be categorized into two groups: the good and the not-so-good.

One trend I’ve noticed is that the classics everyone has heard of are usually dry and dense, and the most exciting books are the ones that manage to fly under the radar. From dystopia to memoirs, and 200-year-old books to books 10 times newer, the range of literature assigned in high school is broad and provides a lot of variance, making plenty of room for the exhilarating, as well as the excruciating. So, to highlight these notable and notorious novels, here is a list of my favorite and least favorite books from each grade level.

9th Grade

Anthem by Ayn Rand – 5 stars

Anthem by Ayn Rand is a dystopian novella set in a future world where individuality has been eliminated. The main character, Equality 7-2521, rebels against authority by pursuing new scientific knowledge in secret, which leads him to a shocking discovery.

This was one of the very first books that I read in high school. I ended up reading all 80-something pages in one sitting, but it wasn’t just because it’s short. I was instantly drawn into the world that Rand builds through her language. The lack of traditional names and the exclusive use of plural personal pronouns was a unique concept I’d never seen in a book before, and I was interested to see what kind of story could emerge from a world like this. Following Equality 7-2521 and watching them discover science and the struggles that accompany it is a thrilling journey. Anthem will keep you turning each page until you reach its satisfying ending.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – 2 stars

Pride and Prejudice is a period piece by Jane Austen. The story follows Elizabeth Bennett and her four sisters as they are forced to navigate difficult social and emotional situations and learn what it’s like to be a woman in 19th century England. 

This is one of the most beloved English books to date, however, it wasn’t my cup of tea. The story was written in the early 19th century, which means that the prose is dense and littered with vocabulary we don’t see often. This can make the book a difficult read, especially for those who are not as invested in the plot. In fact, there is no action in Pride and Prejudice. It’s almost completely made up of interactions between characters and the social dynamics observed in the setting. If you’re someone who appreciates English history and culture, this book would likely suit you better than someone who’s looking for a fast-paced read that ventures beyond the borders of the upper class social circle. Nevertheless, it is a well-written story with great lessons to be learned from it. 

10th Grade

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini – 4 stars

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini is a novel about a boy from Afghanistan named Amir. It follows Amir as he lives through turbulent world events, such as the fall of the Afghan monarchy and the invasion by the Soviet Union, as well as personal events like immigrating to the US and working through strained relationships.

Hosseini crams family dynamics, rich storytelling, and valuable teachings into his book, and he does it in a way that keeps the reader wanting more. He tells a captivating story of a boy who must not only live through the dangers that he encounters in Afghanistan, but leave his home and survive in a country he knows very little about. There are so many aspects of this book that cause the reader to think, like how to live with guilt and grief, and whether someone can ever truly redeem themselves. Hosseini comments on the difficulties of navigating father-son and other important relationships, and by doing so, he creates a beautiful story that everyone can learn a lesson from and reflect back on.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley – 1 star

In a similar vein as Anthem, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley is a dystopian novel set in a future world. This book is often compared to George Orwell’s classic, 1984, and it focuses on a society where babies are genetically altered into certain social classes.

Although this book has been critically acclaimed, this is quite possibly my least favorite book I’ve ever read. I find that Huxley’s style of writing is difficult to follow and makes what could have been an interesting story dull and lifeless. I have no issues with the concept behind the story, but the general style and structure of the book make it intolerable. Throughout the first half of the book, the characters are poorly developed and confusion shrouds the plot. It isn’t until the second half of the novel where I could even begin to understand what was happening, and even then, it was still boring. There’s also no emotion or variance in Huxley’s language, all of this making his book an unpleasant read.

11th Grade

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls – 5 stars

Easily one of the most moving memoirs I’ve read, The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls is a wild and adventurous story, following her, her parents, and her three siblings as she grows up in their dysfunctional family that travels across the United States.

With each new chapter, I found myself wondering how the story could possibly become any more outlandish. From ‘skedaddling’ to and from desert towns and big cities in states like Arizona and Nevada, to moving into a rotting home in rural West Virginia, the memories Walls recalls experiencing are not for the faint-hearted. Although she does receive love and support from her parents, she is also constantly being disappointed by their irresponsible ways. She reflects on both the positives and the negatives of the childhood her parents gave her, giving the reader the unabridged details and allowing them to create their own opinions of her story. Despite the traumatic events continuing to occur throughout her adulthood, the story ends with a satisfying, if not happy, ending. 

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – 2 stars

Another classic, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald tells the story of wealthy Jay Gatsby and his pursuit of his former lover, Daisy Buchanan. This book is set in Long Island during the 1920s, which was considered a time of prosperity and excitement in American history.

This book was somewhat of a disappointment after hearing for years how amazing it is. It’s rather short, coming in at under 200 pages, which isn’t always a bad thing, seeing as I fell in love with Anthem, which is a much shorter novella. The issue I had with the length of the book is that it feels like there was a grand story to tell, but not much of it was actually written in the book. I didn’t find the characters to be likable and the symbolism seemed shallow at best. This novel also falls victim to the same problem I find with a lot of older classics: it’s boring. The prose drones on, and the narrator, Nick, has very little personality. The sole redeeming quality of this book is the insight it gives into the interesting time period. Again, I think the exploration of wealthy social circles is overdone and introduces a cast of overbearing characters. 


12th Grade

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck – 4 stars

Of Mice and Men is just one of many classics penned by the great author, and it’s considered a classic for good reason. It tells the story of George and Lennie, who are a small, intelligent man and a large, intellectually disabled man, respectively, as they search for work across California.

This book, thankfully, avoided the trap that so many aged classics fall into. This book is exciting and keeps the reader engaged with its myriad of different personalities and character types. The stories of the poor will forever be more interesting than those of the rich, which is why I think Of Mice and Men impressed me more than The Great Gatsby. Not only are there more dynamic characters and relationships, but they display compassion and humility, as well as wickedness and deceit. The friendship between George and Lennie is so beautifully heartbreaking, and their story has and will continue to teach me things about myself and the world that are important lessons and need to be learned.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding – 1 star

Lord of the Flies by William Golding is another disappointing classic that didn’t live up to its reputation. In the midst of World War II, a plane wrecks on an island, leaving a group of British schoolboys deserted, and without any supervision, things go awry.

Although the themes that this book explores have merit behind them, such as the dangers of mob mentality and savagery, but the way in which Golding crafted the story is far from masterful. Maybe it’s the cultural difference, but the structure of the dialogue and many of the descriptions and metaphors in the book were hard for me to decipher. Another issue I found was that many of the characters were flat, and could easily be summed up with a singular word, which, of course, leads to an uninteresting story. Unfortunately, the premise of the book, although thought-provoking, is heinous and focuses on humanity through a pessimistic lens, and I feel as if it did not contain any ideas of true value.