The best and worst of high school literature is present in English classes

While school assigned books are rarely enjoyable, there is the rare read that you might actually read on your own


Angel Villalobos

Our library houses many books, some more enjoyable than others.

More often than not, the books we’re assigned to read in our high school English classes are tedious and painful to get through. But sometimes, there are books that actually resonate with us as readers.

After four years of English classes and about 15 books I’ve read against my will, there are some that I legitimately couldn’t finish, and some that made it to the top of my list. Here is a comprehensive review of the most notable of those books.

Important disclaimer: I have not taken any general English classes, and I do enjoy reading on my own time, so these books and my opinions may not entirely align with the overall population of Mead High School students. But I will share my opinions nevertheless.

In 9th grade English Honors, I suffered through Romeo and Juliet alongside everyone else. As a freshman who never read anything more difficult than The Giver, Shakespeare was certainly shocking. Simply put, I didn’t understand it. As someone who has grown to love Shakespeare, I think this play would have benefitted from being later in the English curriculum. The most impactful take away I have from Romeo and Juliet is that the friar was the root of all evil, but beyond that the play was never more than a required read for me. 

In 10th grade English Honors, we started the year strong with Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. This is arguably the worst book I’ve read in high school, so much so that it is the only book I couldn’t finish. I think this book had a good start, and there are certainly things to be learned from this novel. But my god, it flies off the rails. The Duke and the Dauphine get far too many pages in this book. I was constantly scrambling to keep up with the reading assignments and the satirical elements were painful to get through for my 15-year-old self. I respect Mark Twain, but I hated this book.

Directly following Huckleberry Finn, we read To Kill a Mockingbird. Perhaps I was so drained from Huckleberry Finn that anything was appealing, but I genuinely believe this is one of the best American classic novels. This was the first classic I read that resonated with me, previously school assigned books were something I would never read on my own time. At this time my love of reading was growing, and admittedly reading and enjoying To Kill a Mockingbird made me feel extremely sophisticated and superior to my peers. But despite being a classic, this is a very approachable read, and I think there is so much to be learned from this book.

In my junior year, I took AP Language and Composition. If you’re looking to take a year off from a bunch of assigned reading, this is the class for you. We did very little reading outside of class, but there is one book from that year I would like to speak on: Malcom Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. This book was completely different from any other book I’ve been assigned in an English class. It reads more like an extended essay than a novel, which made it fairly unpopular in my class. That being said, I actually thought it was a pretty good read. Again, I would never read this on my own, but if To Kill a Mockingbird made me feel sophisticated, you can only imagine how I felt after reading Malcom Gladwell. Though it’s not necessarily an essential read for anyone, this book will complete your academia dreams. 

My senior year has by far been the heaviest for reading assignments. This of course was my own doing, seeing as I made the choice to take AP Literature. Under no circumstances should you take this class if you never do your assigned reading. That being said, I’ve read some incredible books this year. By far my favorite, though, was actually William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I’ve never been a fan of Shakespeare, but the high school English curriculum succeeded in converting me (however, I still think Henry V was boring). I really enjoyed the moments of comedic relief in Hamlet; it’s quite refreshing after reading so many upsetting books throughout high school. I would also argue that it’s some of the most approachable Shakespeare I’ve read, and knowing firsthand how daunting Shakespeare can feel, you can put your mind at ease if this is a future required read. 

I will finish this review with the quintessential novel of high school english; F. Scott Fitzgerld’s The Great Gatsby. I didn’t get to read this book until my senior year, though some read it as early as English 9. I know so many of my peers hated this book, and admittedly it’s somewhat difficult to find meaning in the story. But I love it. Though it is an objectively easy read, I would argue that it’s beneficial to read in the later years of high school. There is quite a bit of nuance to the book, it’s not just Gatsby’s obsession with Daisy and high class snobbery, but I think that’s all most people see it as. I will not go into all the metaphors and symbols of  The Great Gatsby, we’ve all heard enough about the American dream. But overall, my favorite aspect of this book was the atmosphere. Fitzgerald does a wonderful job of establishing an opulent but somewhat melancholy mood, and he perfectly encapsulates the feeling of roaring 1920s. 

If you’ve made it to the end of this review, may I just express how impressed I am. Was this far too long? Yes. But I’ve only scratched the surface of the novels I’ve read throughout high school.

I’m well aware that assigned reading is painful and boring and even if I enjoy the book, it can get to be too much. But just because we are forced to read some horrible books does not mean we aren’t assigned some incredible ones as well, and classics have their fame for a reason, so at least give them a chance.