Our Teachers Voted
Many of us remember high school fondly, and we particularly enjoyed our English and literature classes. It might have been the first time we were challenged to look at the world differently, sparking our curiosity and questioning our value system.
ThinkFives asked hundreds of teachers what books they remember most from high school. Here’s their list.
Diary of Anne Frank
One of the most poignant and memorable books you can read in high school. Not only is it penned by a fellow teenager, but it also provides insight into a world few – thankfully – have ever experienced.
In 1942, with the Nazis occupying the Netherlands, Anne 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.
Steven Spielberg: “Never forget! In life and even more in death, Anne Frank has held the world in the innocent spell of her truth and wisdom.”
“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death.”
Of Mice and Men
A work of great literature and a tale of a dream unfilled, this novella from George Steinbeck is an allegory for men and women who dream, and who have plans.
At its core, this is a tale of friendship and tragedy during the Great Depression. They are an unlikely pair: George is “small and quick and dark of face”; Lennie, a man of tremendous size, has a young child’s mind. Laborers in California’s dusty vegetable fields hustle work when they can, living a hand-to-mouth existence. When they land jobs on a ranch in the Salinas Valley, the fulfillment of their dream seems to be within their grasp – except that they are not.
“The isolation and social exclusion …, friendship, loneliness, violence, justice… they’re all still just as relevant in today’s society. It’s this relevance that makes it a modern classic.” (KC Studio)
“A guy needs somebody―to be near him. A guy goes nuts if he ain’t got nobody. Don’t make no difference who the guy is, long’s he’s with you. I tell ya, I tell ya a guy gets too lonely an’ he gets sick.”
A Brave New World
While the title conjures feelings of hope that society can change and evolve for the better. Aldous Huxley’s profoundly haunting classic portrays a technologically advanced future where humans are genetically bred, socially indoctrinated, and pharmaceutically anesthetized to passively uphold an authoritarian ruling order. Such is the cost of freedom.
The novel examines a futuristic society called the World State that revolves around science and efficiency. In this society, emotions and individuality are conditioned as children at a young age, and there are no lasting relationships because “everyone belongs to everyone else” (a familiar World State dictum).
“His book warns us of the dangers of mass media, passivity, and how even an intelligent population can be driven to gladly choose dictatorship over freedom.” (BigThink) What could be more relevant for today’s world?
“Over the main entrance the words, CENTRAL LONDON HATCHERY AND CONDITIONING CENTRE, and, in a shield, the World State’s motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY.”
Lord of the Flies
William Golding’s 1954 novel “Lord of the Flies” tells the story of a group of young boys who find themselves alone on a deserted island. They develop rules and a system of organization, but without any adults to serve as a civilizing impulse, the children eventually become violent and brutal.
At the dawn of the next world war, a plane crashes on an uncharted island, stranding a group of schoolboys. At first, with no adult supervision, their freedom is something to celebrate. This far from civilization, they can do anything they want. But order collapses, and the dreams of adventure fade into a nightmare of terror and violence.
“In many ways, Lord of the Flies speaks directly to the [recent] world … where austerity, the refugee crisis, Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump have emboldened nationalist fervor and stoked societal fragmentation.” (Newsweek)
“Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.”
To Kill a Mockingbird
Written by 34-year Harper Lee, this American classic has never been out of print since its 1960 publication and, according to surveys, is still the book listed on more high school required reading lists than any other. Harper Lee captures the soul of the south at a time of turmoil and rising racial unrest.
Narrated by “Scout” Finch, the novel exposes racial prejudice in the American south. Based on Harper Lee’s early years in 1930s Alabama, the mockingbird symbolizes innocence and goodness in its natural wilderness. The all-white jury of the novel convicts Robinson despite Finch’s representation, and the morality play evokes commitment to a great cause even at the risk of being reviled.
“The novel is precisely what America needs as we reckon with our history of slavery and segregation. To Kill a Mockingbird is both contentious and humane, encouraging readers to confront their own hypocrisy and to feel sympathy even for those who are seemingly irredeemable.” (National Review)
“Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.”
What Book Do You Remember Most from High School?