The purpose of this post is to share with you this collection of books featuring some of the seminal works that high school students should be familiar with. These are all canonical works of literature ranging from Shakepeare’ s Macbeth to John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, high school students will have a wide range of reading choices to choose from , that is, if they like classic literature.
Several students don’t!
I know this through my own experience teaching EFL in high school. That was way before the introduction of social media hype. Now that YouTube and Tiktok culture is mainstream together with the short attention span mentality they generated, the reading situation would have probably regressed.
Well, let’s hope your students love reading and you want some good reads to suggest to them, this compilation has you covered. I scoured the web, checked many sources including similar lists made by Edutopia and Goodreads, read tons of reader reviews, and came up with the selection below. Check it out and share with us if you have other suggestions to add.
1. The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Scarlet Letter: A Romance, written by American author Nathaniel Hawthorne and published in 1850, is a timeless classic that explores themes of legalism, sin, and guilt. Set in Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony during the years 1642 to 1649, it tells the story of Hester Prynne and her journey of repentance and redemption. With its rich characters, vivid setting, and powerful themes, this classic novel is sure to draw you into its gripping narrative and engross you in its captivating story.
2. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by by Lewis Carroll
“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is an iconic classic by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, filled with humor and imagination that will take you on an unforgettable journey. Follow Alice as she explores a dreamlike underground world, encountering a cast of strange characters and creatures like the White Rabbit, March Hare, Mad Hatter, Cheshire Cat, Mock Turtle, and the Queen of Hearts.”
3.Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
Fahrenheit 451 is one of the most iconic works of literature. Written by Ray Bradbury, this novel follows Montag, a fireman whose job is to hunt and destroy books and the houses they are hidden in. As Montag discovers the beauty of reading and the power of words, he begins to question his life and the world around him. This classic dystopian novel will leave you questioning the meaning of life and the power of books.
4. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a timeless classic that tells the story of the joys of life in Williamsburg, Brooklyn during the early 20th century. Written by Betty Smith, this book captures the unique vibrancy, culture and customs of the community, from the weekly trading of junk for pennies on Saturdays to the special anticipation of the holidays. It is a beautifully written work of literary art that is sure to bring readers on a journey of nostalgia and universal appreciation. Through this timeless tale, readers can experience the vibrant life of Williamsburg and the universal emotions that will remain with them long after they turn the last page.
5. The Odyssey, by Homer
“If the Iliad is the world’s greatest war epic, the Odyssey is literature’s grandest evocation of an everyman’s journey through life. Odysseus’ reliance on his wit and wiliness for survival in his encounters with divine and natural forces during his ten-year voyage home to Ithaca after the Trojan War is at once a timeless human story and an individual test of moral endurance. “
6. Death of a Salesman, by Authur Miller
“Willy Loman, the protagonist of Death of a Salesman, has spent his life following the American way, living out his belief in salesmanship as a way to reinvent himself. But somehow the riches and respect he covets have eluded him. At age 63, he searches for the moment his life took a wrong turn, the moment of betrayal that undermined his relationship with his wife and destroyed his relationship with Biff, the son in whom he invested his faith. Willy lives in a fragile world of elaborate excuses and daydreams, conflating past and present in a desperate attempt to make sense of himself and of a world that once promised so much.”
7. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank
“In 1942, with the Nazis occupying Holland, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl and her family fled their home in Amsterdam and went into hiding. For the next two years, until their whereabouts were betrayed to the Gestapo, the Franks and another family lived cloistered in the “Secret Annexe” of an old office building. Cut off from the outside world, they faced hunger, boredom, the constant cruelties of living in confined quarters, and the ever-present threat of discovery and death. In her diary Anne Frank recorded vivid impressions of her experiences during this period”
8. Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad
“The story tells of Charles Marlow, an Englishman who took a foreign assignment from a Belgian trading company as a ferry-boat captain in Africa. Heart of Darkness exposes the myth behind colonization while exploring the three levels of darkness that the protagonist, Marlow, encounters–the darkness of the Congo wilderness, the darkness of the European’s cruel treatment of the natives, and the unfathomable darkness within every human being for committing heinous acts of evil”
9. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë
“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? “
10. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith
Embark on a journey with Francie Nolan as she grows up in the Williamsburg slums of Brooklyn, New York in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. This classic novel captures the struggles of a family through hardship and adversity, and highlights Francie’s strength of spirit as she faces the challenges of poverty, prejudice and more. With vivid descriptions and heartfelt characters, Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is an inspiring story about resilience and hope.
11. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
“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.Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
“Raskolnikov, an impoverished student tormented by his own nihilism, and the struggle between good and evil, believes he is above the law. Convinced that humanitarian ends justify vile means, he brutally murders an old woman—a pawnbroker whom he regards as “stupid, ailing, greedy…good for nothing.” Overwhelmed afterward by feelings of guilt and terror, Raskolnikov confesses to the crime and goes to prison. There he realizes that happiness and redemption can only be achieved through suffering.”
13. The Old Man and the Sea , by Ernest Hemingway
“The Old Man and the Sea is one of Hemingway’s most enduring works. Told in language of great simplicity and power, it is the story of an old Cuban fisherman, down on his luck, and his supreme ordeal — a relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream. Here Hemingway recasts, in strikingly contemporary style, the classic theme of courage in the face of defeat, of personal triumph won from loss. “
14. Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens
“Great Expectations is a bildungsroman, or a coming-of-age novel, and it is a classic work of Victorian literature. It depicts the growth and personal development of an orphan named Pip. The novel was first published in serial form in Dickens’s weekly periodical All the Year Round, from 1 December 1860 to August 1861…Great Expectations is a graphic book, full of extreme imagery, poverty, prison ships (“the hulks”), barriers and chains, and fights to the death. “
15. A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens
“Unjustly imprisoned for 18 years in the Bastille, Dr. Alexandre Manette is reunited with his daughter, Lucie, and safely transported from France to England. It would seem that they could take up the threads of their lives in peace. As fate would have it though, the pair are summoned to the Old Bailey to testify against a young Frenchman — Charles Darnay — falsely accused of treason. Strangely enough, Darnay bears an uncanny resemblance to another man in the courtroom, the dissolute lawyer’s clerk Sydney Carton. It is a coincidence that saves Darnay from certain doom more than once.”
16. Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe
“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.”
17. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
“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.”
18. Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte
“Wuthering Heights is a wild, passionate story of the intense and almost demonic love between Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff, a foundling adopted by Catherine’s father. After Mr Earnshaw’s death, Heathcliff is bullied and humiliated by Catherine’s brother Hindley and wrongly believing that his love for Catherine is not reciprocated, leaves Wuthering Heights, only to return years later as a wealthy and polished man. He proceeds to exact a terrible revenge for his former miseries. “
19. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain
“The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain is an 1876 novel about a young boy growing up along the Mississippi River. The story is set in the fictional town of St. Petersburg, inspired by Hannibal, Missouri, where Twain lived.Tom Sawyer lives with his Aunt Polly and his half-brother Sid. Tom dirties his clothes in a fight and is made to whitewash the fence the next day as punishment.”
20. 1984, by George Orwell
“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 novel, 1984 creates an imaginary world that is completely convincing from start to finish. No one can deny the novel’s hold on the imaginations of whole generations, or the power of its admonitions—a power that seems to grow, not lessen, with the passage of time.”
21. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
“Overworked, mistreated animals on a farm revolt and take control over it. They set out to create an ideal space brimming with the ideas of progress, justice, and equality only to result in an equally problematic environment. This makes the backdrop of one of the most telling satiric fables ever penned. With flaming idealism and stirring slogans, this book chronicles the evolution from revolution against tyranny to totalitarianism just as terrible.”
22. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
“First published in 1925, this quintessential novel of the Jazz Age has been acclaimed by generations of readers.The central character is Jay Gatsby, a wealthy New Yorker of indeterminate occupation. Gatsby is primarily known for the lavish parties he throws each weekend at his ostentatious Gothic mansion in West Egg. He is suspected of being involved in illegal bootlegging and other underworld activities…”
23. Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
“A plane crashes on a desert island. The only survivors are a group of schoolboys. By day, they explore the dazzling beaches, gorging fruit, seeking shelter, and ripping off their uniforms to swim in the lagoon. At night, in the darkness of the jungle, they are haunted by nightmares of a primitive beast. Orphaned by society, they must forge their own; but it isn’t long before their innocent games devolve into a murderous hunt …”
24. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
“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.”
25. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
“Brave New World is a dystopian social science fiction novel by English author Aldous Huxley, written in 1931. Largely set in a futuristic World State, whose citizens are environmentally engineered into an intelligence-based social hierarchy, the novel anticipates huge scientific advancements in reproductive technology, sleep-learning, psychological manipulation and classical conditioning that are combined to make a dystopian society which is challenged by only a single individual: the story’s protagonist.”
26. Grapes of wrath, by John Steinbeck
“The Grapes of Wrath takes place during America’s Great Depression, which lasted from the Stock Market Crash of October 1929 until World War II began 12 years later. During this time, a long period of drought and high winds affected large parts of the American Midwest, including much of the state of Oklahoma, creating what was called the Dust Bowl. Many of the people in the lower Midwest moved elsewhere, hoping to find fertile land on which to make a living. Tom Joad is the protagonist, or main character, of The Grapes of Wrath. Tom is the book’s hero as well despite the fact that Tom attacks a policeman at one point in the novel and beats a man at another point, becoming a cave-dwelling fugitive as a result. Tom’s actions, although illegal according to the letter of the law, are morally just.”
27. The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho
“Combining magic, mysticism, wisdom and wonder into an inspiring tale of self-discovery, The Alchemist has become a modern classic, selling millions of copies around the world and transforming the lives of countless readers across generations. Paulo Coelho’s masterpiece tells the mystical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of a worldly treasure. His quest will lead him to riches far different—and far more satisfying—than he ever imagined. Santiago’s journey teaches us about the essential wisdom of listening to our hearts, of recognizing opportunity and learning to read the omens strewn along life’s path, and, most importantly, to follow our dreams.”
28. Macbeth, by William Shakespeare
One of the most prominent plays of Shakespeare, Macbeth revolves around the life of a brave Scottish general whose ambition overrides his loyalty when three witches prophesy that he will one day become the King of Scotland.
Encouraged by his wife, Macbeth murders Duncan and seizes the throne but the guilt and terror of his crime torments his soul. Will Macbeth keep committing murders to satisfy his power hunger or take the route of redemption?
29. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” The hero-narrator of The Catcher in the Rye is an ancient child of sixteen, a native New Yorker named Holden Caufield. 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.”
30. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
“The Handmaid’s Tale is a novel of such power that the reader will be unable to forget its images and its forecast. Set in the near future, it describes life in what was once the United States and is now called the Republic of Gilead, a monotheocracy that has reacted to social unrest and a sharply declining birthrate by reverting to, and going beyond, the repressive intolerance of the original Puritans. The regime takes the Book of Genesis absolutely at its word, with bizarre consequences for the women and men in its population.”