Submitted by Stephanie A., Master Tutor
By the time some students get to high school, they will insist they don’t like to
read, but here’s the argument for that: if a high school student claims he doesn’t
like to read, he just hasn’t read the right book that will turn him into a book lover.
Below is a short, but diverse selection that may do the trick.
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
At first, this novel could be mistaken for a quirky war story. Billy Pilgrim, the
book’s protagonist, could not be more hapless. He is tall and socially awkward
and just seems always to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, including
Dresden, the beautiful German city that was fire-bombed by the Allies for no
apparent reason at the end of World War II. However, a closer examination of
the novel reveals its powerful anti-war message which is delivered with the help
of some space aliens known as Tralfamadorians. The book’s unexpected
wisdom, humor and time travel make the message of Vonnegut’s book, although
fifty years old, as powerful today as it was when it was written. By the way,
Vonnegut himself survived the Dresden bombing by hiding out in an underground
slaughterhouse, number 5.
Night by Elie Wiesel
Most tend to think of a fiction book as a natural for a book recommendation for
young readers, but non-fiction, and particularly an autobiography, can often
provide life lessons, especially when delivered through the experiences of a
young person. Night is the true story of young Elie, a serious religious student
who has his faith tested when he and his family are subjected to the horrors of
Auschwitz. Immediately separated from his sister and mother when he arrives at
the infamous camp, Elie struggles with his father to endure the debasement the
Nazis inflict on the concentration camp prisoners. As the only member of his
family to survive the unimaginable nightmare, Elie struggles to make sense of
why such evil cruelty was inflicted on millions. His survival and his powerful
writing, however, are a gift to all of us.
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
Although probably best read by older high school students, Roy’s sprawling,
complex family saga tells the story of twins Rahel and Esthappen. This lyrical
novel, assembled with flashbacks, reveals how not even profound love can
protect against the devastating effects of India’s caste system. As children, the
twins experience the death of their young cousin Sophie, but it takes them into
their adulthood to fully understand how their entire lives were rendered asunder
because of that one traumatic event. Separated not only from each other after
Sophie’s death, the twins also are kept apart from their beloved mother, Ammu.
The novel’s themes and some of its events require a degree of maturity, but this
Booker Award winner should not be missed–or read just once.