Are you a high school student looking for something good to read this summer?
Now that you’re recovering from your exams and the first round of school’s out parties…
As that initial anticipation of a glorious summer dwindles into a reality of sleeping in, Netflix, and unending hours of mundane social media and screen fatigue — why not pick up a book?
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How will you use reading as a way to push yourself as a thinker and a person this summer? (But just as important — what will you read for fun?)
Here’s a roundup of some recent (and some not-so-recent) reads that are sure to keep your brainwaves pulsing this summer.
Young Adult (YA) Fiction
We Were Liars (E. Lockhart)
A beautiful, well-off family summers together on an idyllic private island. All should be perfect, but the tension is palpable.
Psychologically complex and deeply compelling. You’ll find yourself burning for a resolution to a conflict you don’t even really understand, until…
Bonus: If you read King Lear in school (or have seen a production of Shakespeare’s tragedy), you’ll appreciate the references.
Grasshopper Jungle (Andrew Smith)
A realistic story of kid named Austin, 16, and his sometimes complicated feelings for his best friend and his girlfriend. That is, until the man-eating praying mantises show up. The six-foot-tall praying mantises, “Unstoppable Soldiers,” by contrast, do not seem all that complicated:
Unstoppable Soldiers are like cats in that they are stimulated by movement. They are also like walleyes in that they only want to do two things. The two things walleyes and Unstoppable Soldiers want to do is fuck and eat. (p. 352)
The fate of humankind hangs in the balance. And Austin will be both hero and historian, striving to remain faithful to the facts that matter.
This book is bizarre, for sure. But it is realistic in all the right ways, and likewise completely absurd in all the right ways.
The Book Thief (Markus Zusak)
Historical fiction set in WWII. Narrated by Death. Intriguing, no?
All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr)
A sweeping, beautiful tale of a young girl in Paris and a young boy in Germany leading up to WWII.
She is smart, blind, the daughter of a locksmith at the Museum of Natural History. And he is selected to be part of an elite Nazi training school with the Hitler Youth.
They both come of age in the war.
As you become more and more engrossed in each discrete narrative, you can’t help but wonder — how will these two stories intersect?
The Icarus Girl (Helen Oyeyemi)
Helen Oyeyemi, who was born in Nigeria and grew up in England, wrote this novel when she was still in school studying for her final exams!
Her 8-year-old protagonist is the daughter of a British man and a Nigerian woman. She’s having trouble fitting in at school, and turning more and more to her imagination for an outlet.
A fantastic psychological rabbit hole of a novel that will leave you taking nothing for granted.
A Grain of Wheat (Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o)
Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is set at the moment of first contact in Nigeria; Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s novel takes place on the eve of independence in Kenya.
A clash of cultures, to be sure.
Complex characters interact in ways that highlight the paradox of a fraught historical moment.
Every Day Is for the Thief (Teju Cole)
A man with two cultures returns to his origin, and discovers he is no longer the same.
Literary Fiction / Classics
1984 (George Orwell)
In the cultural moment of the dystopian #YA novel, rediscover the greatest dystopia ever written.
But be warned — the lessons of this novel may require a bit more digestion than that other one by Suzanne Collins.
The Metamorphosis (Franz Kafka)
I mean, the man is living his life and then he mysterious turns into a cockroach. WTF?!
Is it possible we, as humans, can relate to the feeling, though?
The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Neil Gaiman)
That unsettling feeling, from the author who freaked us out with Coraline, is starting to feel almost… familiar?
A mysterious and inexplicable journey.
Everything a story should be.
Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China (Evan Osnos)
Evan Osnos, former Beijing corespondent for the New Yorker, takes you beyond the headlines to glimpse the culture, politics and economics of this rapidly changing country. Osnos’ anecdotes and analysis provide a nuanced view of a country often times feared and misunderstood from afar.
Blink (Malcolm Gladwell)
Is it possible to think without thinking? When we make split-second decisions, what resources do we draw upon? Can we call that instinct? Is instinct a kind of knowledge?
The Empathy Exams: Essays (Leslie Jamison)
The “title track” of this collection finds Leslie Jamison as a medical actor, acting out symptoms for doctors-in-training. You can imagine how this might cause her to think more seriously about empathy.
A fresh collection of nonfiction personal essays from a brilliant and promising young writer.
Math / Economics
A Beautiful Math: John Nash, Game Theory, and the Modern Quest for a Code of Nature (Tom Siegfried)
You’ve heard of the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Now let’s go deeper…
Just weeks after the Nobel Prize-winning mathematician died in a taxi accident, learn about the man, and the ways in which his ideas transformed economics and other ways of knowing.
The Joy of x: A Guided Tour of Math, from One to Infinity (Steven H. Strogatz)
This collection of vignettes explores “math’s greatest hits.” Whether you think you’re good at math, or you hate the way the subject is taught in school — this book will make you marvel at the beauty and mystery that is all around us.
Science / Medicine
The Edge of the Sky: All You Need to Know About the All-There-Is (Roberto Trotta)
An astrophysicist has the brilliant idea to write a book about dark matter and black holes using only the thousand most common words in the English language. (Thus, “universe” becomes the “All-There-Is.”)
This book is tactile, aesthetic, scientific, mythological.
A tremendous achievement in terms of creativity and communication. One that will certainly leave you illuminated, yet wondering about what more is out there… (h/t Brainpickings)
The Scalpel and the Silver Bear: The First Navajo Woman Surgeon Combines Western Medicine and Traditional Healing (Lori Arviso Alvord)
The memoir of one remarkable woman.
Ask a Friend?
Finally, what would YOU add to this list? (I’m especially interested to hear from those of you who are in high school!) Tweet at me — @ericspreng or leave your suggestions as a comment.