Throughout high school, students are forced to read novels that they hate. Each book always seems worse when you are forced to read a certain number of pages a night and then discuss it the next day in class. Let’s face it, most of us have relied on Sparknotes for some of these books. Even among these books, I have always managed to find a book that I fall in love with. These are the books that drive us to actually read and not rely on online sources. You love writing those essays on them because you feel so passionate about that novel. Here are my top five!
1. "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker
This book is written in the form of an epistolary novel, meaning it is a book of letters and that chapters are generally fairly short. It is a quick read, but it has a heavy storyline. This novel exposes social problems regarding race and gender during the life of the main character, Celie, during the first half of the twentieth century. It is amazing how some of the issues are still prevalent today. This novel allows the reader to feel a rollercoaster of emotions as Celie grows up and develops.
The book revolves around the conflicts associated with hierarchy. The reader is exposed to the hierarchies both between and within races. The author successfully reveals that the problems were not just between the African American people and the white people, but rather between men and women. Even if black men were viewed low on the racial hierarchy, black women were a step below them. I both loved and hated being able to connect it to current events. Between the Black Lives Matter movement and the fight for equal pay between genders, Walker’s messages remain prevalent. This Tony Award-winning revival of the story is currently on Broadway!
2. "Nineteen Minutes" by Jodi Picoult
Jodi Picoult chooses to write most of her novels through the perspectives of more than one main character. This writing style is particularly fascinating, especially in the case of this plot. Picoult creates a story line surrounding a school shooting in New Hampshire. The reader is exposed to the story through the eyes of the shooter, the shooter's former best friend, the former friend’s mother (a Supreme Court Judge), a police officer and the shooter’s mother. These perspectives allow insight into why the shooter did what he did.
Picoult displays what his peers saw, how parents reacted, what the police saw at the scene, how the shooter’s family felt afterward, and what was going through the shooter’s head, allowing readers to view the shooter as human.
I originally chose to read this book because I was a freshman when the Sandy Hook shooting occurred. It was my first real exposure to the possibility of that happening and it occurred at a school only three hours away from where I grew up.
3. "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" by Jonathan Safran Foer
The main character of this book is Oskar, an elementary school student who lost his father in the 9/11 attacks. Oskar has underdeveloped social skills and falls somewhere on the autism spectrum. Oskar finds a key in his father’s closet and it becomes his mission to find out where it fits. The envelope it is found in says “Black” on it, and this leads Oskar to go visit everyone in the five boroughs of New York with that last name.
Foer utilizes a show-not-tell philosophy in this book. He includes numerous images throughout the novel and includes letters from Oskar’s grandfather. These images are used to strengthen themes and symbols throughout the novel. It also ends with a flipbook of someone jumping from one of the Twin Towers. This is significant because Oskar creates that flip book but plays it backward because he believes it is an image of his father and by playing it backward, his father did not fall from the towers.
I loved this book because Oskar was a multidimensional eight-year-old who knows more than people twice his age. I barely remember this day in history, because when 9/11 happened, I was only three; however, my oldest sister was Oskar's age. Seeing Oskar’s pain and inability to cope with the loss of his father gave me a new perspective on that horrid day in history.
4. "The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak
This story, which takes place during the Holocaust, is narrated through the point of view of death. Zusak writes of a struggling family that has taken in a Jewish man and allowed him to live in their basement. The reader is exposed to Jewish shops being destroyed and the book burnings that take place during that period.
Zusak personifies death as if it's its own character. The death toll increased so much during World War II, and death became so commonplace, that Death itself was almost bored. Death did not want to grace people with his presence, but it was his job.This novel created a whole new take on the Holocaust and emphasizes the pain of that period.
5. "A Prayer for Owen Meany" by John Irving
This book takes place when both John and Owen are young elementary school boys, and then proceeds to go through high school. The author then includes diary entries from a 45-year-old John. The main event included was the Vietnam War. This plays an important part in the novel, as Owen has a preoccupation with death and his goal is to serve in Vietnam, active duty.
I loved this novel because of the different layers of complexity within the characters. There were times that Owen was funny, and then it would switch in an instant to serious. It was long book, but I could not stop reading.