Summer is just around the corner, and for high school students, that means that pretty soon you’ll be getting your summer reading assignments. It doesn’t matter if you’re a natural reader with a full bookshelf—nobody really likes having to slog through a list of “classics” before the fall semester starts up.
Reading skills are crucial for teenagers, though, and developing any skill takes practice. Reading regularly can help make even the most difficult novels easier to get through, and as a lifelong bookworm, I’ve got plenty of recommendations. These are titles that I find myself returning to over and over because I actually enjoy them, and some of them might already be on your required reading list anyway.
- A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, author of The Kite Runner. This beautiful work of historical fiction depicts two women’s intertwined lives in Afghanistan through the Afghan-Soviet war and the rise of the Taliban.
- Life of Pi by Yann Martel. Piscine “Pi” Patel finds himself stranded on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean with a Bengal tiger for a shipmate, and things only get stranger from there. A surreal, vivid meditation on faith, religion and the nature of storytelling.
- 1984 by George Orwell. A lowly employee of Big Brother’s oppressive regime risks his life to join the resistance. I won’t lie; this is a fairly challenging read, but it’s a valuable cautionary tale about totalitarianism (and I have written an entire paper about how most people miss its point, but I’ll leave that can of worms unopened).
- Crank by Ellen Hopkins. Based loosely on the life of the author’s own daughter, this free verse poetry novel follows sixteen-year-old Kristina as a summer dalliance with drug use quickly spirals out of control.
- The Unwind series by Neal Shusterman. In the near-future, anyone aged 13 to 18 can legally be “unwound”—that is, harvested for their organs and kept alive in the bodies of transplant patients. This series tackles tough questions of bodily autonomy and the meaning of personhood, and leaves room for readers to draw their own conclusions.
Tired of the walls of text? Try some graphic novels or comics, and ignore the naysayers who think they don’t count as reading. Here are some that get my seal of approval:
- The Persepolis series by Marjane Satrapi. This memoir follows young Marji through two very different worlds: her war-torn childhood in Iran and her forays into drugs, punk rock and revolutionary politics as a young adult in Austria.
- Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Widely considered the greatest comic series ever written, Watchmen is a deconstruction of the costumed hero archetype. The story studies a network of not-so-super heroes and their complicated search for purpose under Reaganism and the Cold War.
- Hyperbole and a Half and Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh. Remember that “X ALL THE THINGS!” meme from forever ago? The creator wrote and illustrated these books. In them, she pairs her dry wit with hysterically funny Microsoft Paint comics to recall episodes from her past, analyze her thought processes and point out the absurdities of day-to-day life.
- The Scott Pilgrim series by Bryan Lee O’Malley. Scott Pilgrim is a slacker without much going for him, and if he wants to date the ultra-cool Ramona Flowers, he’ll have to defeat her seven evil exes. It starts out as a lighthearted manga-inspired romance, but slowly becomes a bittersweet coming-of-age story about personal growth.