Julia is going overseas for most of the summer, and she is putting together her reading list. I’m sure she’ll put together a fine list. But we live in a culture in which we are compelled to suggest to high school students what they might want to read, especially in preparation for college. I’ve looked at a couple of those lists, and they are dismal. Some seem to be lists of works that are especially long, challenging of language, in many cases unpublishable in the modern market, out of date, and boring. I mean, really, Moby Dick? Watch the movie, dude, the book is a bear.
However, the American Library Association has a set of lists, topically defined, and in my view excellent. I thank Julia’s English teacher, Ms Folliard, and her assistant Ms Hart, for suggesting this source.
I’ve gone through the lists and developed my own sublist, going with the assumption that you’d want to start the summer with about a dozen titles. Here it is:
Ahmad, Dohra, ed. Rotten English: A Literary Anthology. 2007. W.W. Norton. Language is power and for the dizzying array of writers collected here, displaying an authentic voice is a means to reclaim what has been stolen, oppressed, or colonized.Rotten Englishcollects the poetry, essays, short stories, and novels of the best in global vernacular writing from Mark Twain to Junot Diaz.
Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Arnold Spirit, aka Junior, was born an outsider with water on his brain, lopsided eyes, and an IQ oppressed by extreme poverty and a mediocre reservation education. After switching to an all-white high school he realizes that though he’ll never easily fit in, self-determination and a solid personal identity will give him the chance to both succeed and transcend.
Blumenthal, Karen. Let Me Play: The Story of Title IX: The Law That Changed the Future of Girls in America. 2005. Simon & Schuster/Atheneum. This nonfiction work looks at Title IX, the 1972 legislation mandating that schools receiving federal funds could not discriminate on the basis of gender, ensuring equal treatment and opportunity for girls in sports and education. Included are period photos, a time line, “then and now” commentary, extensive source notes, and suggested resources for further reading.
Brown, Rita Mae. Rubyfruit Jungle. The story of Molly Bolt, southern girl who moves to New York.
Bryson, Bill. A Short History of Nearly Everything. 2004. Broadway Books. A renowned travel writer brings complex scientific concepts to life by describing how the universe and life as we know it came to be.
Candlewick. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation Volume II: The Kingdom on the Waves. 2008. Candlewick. Set during the American Revolution, Octavian is raised as a pampered African prince by a society of Enlightenment philosophers who view him as an experiment. Realizing that his freedom is an illusion, Octavian sets off on a journey to find freedom and a place in the world. These books will challenge everything you have ever learned about the Revolutionary War.
Casey, Susan. The Devil’s Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America’s Great White Sharks. 2006. Henry Holt/Owl Books. While studying migratory birds on the remote Farallones Islands, 30 miles off the coast of San Francisco, biologists noticed red blotches in the surrounding waters. These sightings evolve into a full blown scientific study of great white sharks revealing unknown secrets of this prehistoric beast.
Cisneros, Sandra. Caramelo. 2003. Knopf/Vintage. LaLa learns the stories of her Awful Grandmother and weaves them into a colorful family history. The “caramelo,” a striped shawl begun by her Great-Grandmother, symbolizes their traditions.
D’Orso, Michael. Eagle Blue: A Team, a Tribe, and a High School Basketball Season in Arctic Alaska. 2006. Bloomsbury. This true story explores the tiny village of Fort Yukon, Alaska, its vanishing cultural heritage, and its relationship with mainstream American culture through its high school basketball team.
Egan, Timothy. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. 2005. Houghton Mifflin. Award winningNew York Timesreporter Egan tackles the great dust bowl phenomenon of the 1930’s and 40’s in this multi-tiered account. He shares incredible eye-witness accounts as well as the overwhelming convergences of failed agricultural practices, ill-fated government policies, and the costs of “get rich quick” schemes.
Fadiman, Anne. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down. 1998. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. A Hmong refugee family in California clashes with the American medical system when they attribute their daughter’s grand mal seizures to a spiritual rather than physical problem.
Jacobs, A.J. The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. 2007. Simon & Schuster. A non-judgmental and humorous look at the twelve months Jacobs lived as closely as he could to literal compliance with biblical rules.
Jones, Lloyd. Mister Pip. 2008. Dell Publishing/Dial Press. Matilda’s Pacific Island village has been torn apart by civil war. Against this harsh backdrop, Mr. Watts, a lonely British expatriate, maintains calm by reading Dicken’s Great Expectations aloud to the village children, transforming their lives.
Kidd, Sue Monk. The Secret Life of Bees. 2008. Penguin. Searching for the truth about her mother’s life and death, a grieving Lily finds the answers, love, and acceptance where she least expects it.
McKibben, Bill, ed. American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau (Library of America). 2008. The Library of America. Experience the growth of the environmental movement in poetry, essay, song, and prose from its infancy to present day through the eyes of its champions.
Piercy, Marge. Gone to Soldiers. Several different lives during World War II.
Saenz, Benjamin Alire. Sammy and Juliana in Hollywood. 2004. Cinco Puntos Press. This Hollywood is a barrio in 1968 New Mexico, where the students at Las Cruces High School struggle through heartbreak, loss, and an entrenched racial divide to find their place in the world.
Stern, Jessica. Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill. 2004. HarperCollins. Seeking to understand how religious ardor leads to violence, Stern recounts her dramatic encounters with Christians and Muslims who use terrorism in the name of God.
Ung, Loung. First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers (P.S.). 2006. HarperCollins. The perils of life under the brutal Pol Pot regime change a young woman’s life forever, as she and her family find themselves fugitives of war, without even their names to remind them of what they lost.
Zusak, Marcus. The Book Thief. 2006. Random House/Knopf. Living in Nazi Germany, young Liesel and her family choose to lie and steal to protect a Jewish refugee hiding in their basement. Narrated by Death, this is not your typical World War II story.
OK, so that’s a little longer than a dozen. Sadly, only a small number are available for the Kindle, so if Julia is going to read a list like this one (and she’ probably pick some different titles, though I’m sure there are several here she’d enjoy) she’s going to have to get another piece of luggage.
So, of these books which ones should NOT be here because they suck? What am I missing, either from the ALA lists or as your own independent recommendation? Two of the books on this list are actually not on the ALA lists.
nb: Most of the descriptive text for these books is from the ALA site. Do go check the site out for additional ideas.