Summer reading lists–the bane of many students’ existence! While they enjoy their break from scholastic pursuits, there is always the specter of the assigned reading they need to complete before returning to classes.
If you have seen a recent school reading list, you would understand the students’ lack of enthusiasm. Why are these lists so uninspiring? There are lots of titles out there that get teens excited about reading; why not put them on the lists? And parents, if you really want your child to read, why not read one or two of their assigned books and discuss them together? Below are some suggestions for summer reading that will interest both teens and their parents and could easily be included on a school’s summer reading list.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky, was an optional choice on a school list in the Boston area several years ago in a class for remedial students studying for state tests. Controversy erupted when a parent, flipping through her son’s book, noticed profanity and sexual situations. Without actually reading the book, she wrote a letter to the school and complained about its inclusion on the list; her son, she was certain, was too young to be subjected to such material. In fact, this novel, written as letters from the protagonist to a nameless friend, chronicles the life of a sensitive high school boy who lives his life on the fringes of society, wanting to fit in, yet is fearful of embracing an independent life. Neither the profanity nor the sex is gratuitous, and the growth of Charlie’s self-confidence propels the story until he finally faces the trauma that marked him years ago. And the controversy in Boston? The bookstore where I was working posted the mother’s letter and our defense of the book next to a stack of copies, and we sold well over 100 books to curious parents.
Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card, is a classic fantasy novel about children who are chosen to attend Battle School in order to fight an alien race whose goal is to wipe out humanity. Stated like that, it doesn’t sound like much, but in Card’s hands, the story becomes much more. Ender, small for his age and extraordinarily brilliant, is sent to Battle School when his aptitude tests score off the charts. Once there, his excellence threatens the status quo, and he finds himself the target of bullies. To survive, Ender must learn the system, make friends, and develop his fighting skills; that he manages to succeed is a testament to his determination and leadership abilities. This is a cult classic; even if you think you don’t enjoy science fiction, give it a try.
Another classic coming of age novel is The Power of One, by Bryce Courtenay. Set in South Africa starting at the beginning of World War II, our protagonist is Peekay, a young boy of English descent living in a Boer-dominated society in which the white minority rules the black majority. Early in his life, Peekay forms his lifelong ambition: to become the welterweight boxing champion of the world. From that point on, every influence in his life, from his scientific mentor Doc to his boxing coach Geel Piet, contributes his part towards helping Peekay reach his goal. As he matures, he begins to understand the tragedy that will inevitably engulf his homeland, even as he fights for racial equality.
Finally, Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow, published last year, is an updated version of George Orwell’s 1984. When terrorists strike San Francisco and the Department of Homeland Security arrives to ensure the safety of its citizens, who will preserve their freedom? When 17-year old Marcus decides to fight back, the roller coaster ride begins. Doctorow’s mastery of technology and his knowledge of how it can be used for both good and evil make this a cautionary tale well worth reading.
Susan Taylor has been in the book business since 1982.