High School Reading List Wish List

The Hunger GamesI recently had a fairly robust mutual rant with a friend about how school reading lists desperately need an overhaul. As writers and editors, we’re huge readers. But most of our love for reading was formulated outside, and in spite, of the books we were forced to read at school.

Sure, there were some classics in there, and we’re glad to have read them somewhere along our book-devouring journey. But our point was—and is—school is a crucial time to introduce people to reading. Or turn them off it.

If you manage school reading lists manage the former, readers are going to find their way to all the slightly drier classics in their own time, driven by their voracious and inquisitiveness-piqued reading appetite. Isn’t it better to give them books that get them hooked in the first place?

Plus, those reading lists haven’t been revisited in decades. They’re long overdue for an update. We wouldn’t accept the status quo in other areas such as science if and when new, study-worthy information becomes available.

It’s uncanny timing then, that BuzzFeed came out with a list of 26 contemporary books people suggest should be taught in high school. (That or BuzzFeed is listening in on my conversations. Like Siri.)

Obvs, my friend and I took a keen interest in this list. Shaping up as the first book mentioned is The Book Thief, a book I’ll confess I read, but read late and only for product knowledge. I was working at Borders at the time and people who were largely non-readers seemed to be buying it by the truckload and raving about it vociferously.

Maybe I’m missing something, but though it’s beautifully written, I think it’s pretty slow. Especially at the start. It will remain an eternal mystery to me how non-voracious readers stuck with it long enough to see it through. And in such numbers. Any ideas? Still, the book’s a good suggestion, and a fantastic companion to/comparison text for something like The Diary of Anne Frank.

I Am MalalaNobel Peace Prize-winning Malala Yousafzai’s I Am Malala is on the list too. It’s an excellent choice because it’s timely and relevant to ongoing efforts to address some of the appalling and continuing efforts to prevent women from obtaining an education around the world.

It’s also an accessible, riveting, relatable read. Malala is both ordinary and extraordinary (as I’ve previously written here in my review). Better yet, it’s written in plain language and grapples with such issues as living overseas as a sort of outsider slash refugee. Much to unpack and relate to there.

The inclusion of The Handmaid’s Tale surprised and delighted me. It’s a dystopian book that I didn’t encounter until I read it as part of my writing course at university, but one that is arguably more relevant than even the time in which it was written. I’ve often thought about revisiting it if or when I have time, as I think there’s plenty I missed reading it the first time.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is one I’d forgotten about, but am glad others remembered. I have a cousin and an uncle who have autism. This book enabled me and many others to understand them more than I/we ever had before. I’m almost certain it smoothed my relatives’ paths in the world ever so slightly, and for that I’m incredibly grateful.

The Handmaid's TaleChimamanda Ngozi Adichi’s Half of a Yellow Sun makes an appearance on the list. I still—still!—haven’t gotten around to reading any of her work, although I perpetually plan to. This book’s going to be the first one off the rank just as soon as I get some time after uni’s over. In about a year. Watch this book-reviewing blog space.

The Hunger Games features at #21; Harry Potter at #26. I’d have bet they’d be jostling for #1. I mean, have you read anything YA as prescient and addictive in recent years?! And handily capturing people’s imagination and enhanced by blockbuster Hollywood films to compare with?! Not to mention the fact that once students are hooked, there’s more than one book for them to inhale, i.e. hook them on reading even more?!

The Secret Life of Bees sneaks on to the list too. I’ll not deny I’m a little puzzled. It’s a good book, with plenty in there about life and racism and nature and kindness, but not one I’d think to recommend to high school kids for reasons I can’t quite articulate. It certainly doesn’t do anything To Kill A Mockingbird does, but better.

Half of a Yellow SunI’m not sure what I’d recommend in its place, though. Or what list additions I’d suggest. I’m suffering from the classic blank-mindedness that comes from already being provided with a bunch of answers. Maybe The Fault in our Stars

Is there anything you can think of that the list’s missed?

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Fiona Crawford

Fiona Crawford is a freelance writer, editor, blogger, proofreader, and voracious reader. She regularly appears as a book reviewer in Australian BOOKSELLER+PUBLISHER magazine. Fiona is also (unfairly) known as the Book Burglar due to her penchant for buying family members—then permanently borrowing—books she wants to read herself.