Originally Posted: Jul 6, 2017
Last Updated: Apr 8, 2020
Looking for some book recommendations this summer? From romance to comedy to 800-page epics, here are some of the best books high school students can read over the next couple of months. They’ll make you look smart, prepare you for class in the fall, and spice up your summer…without leaving the air conditioning.
Pro tip: hit up your local library so you can get these books for free! You may be able to “borrow” a digital copy for your e-reader or an audio book from the library too.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
This is the first book in Douglas Adams’ hilarious series about Arthur Dent’s travels in space. This book is a short, quick read—it’s an easy one to fit it in during a busy summer. And it will make you think just the right amount! The humor comes from all angles, with one-liners and situational ironies galore. It’s a comedy classic for a reason.
Anything by Rick Riordan
I know that I’m already cheating on the second entry by putting an author as opposed to a specific book, but do you really want to read all the names of his books? Perhaps most famous for his Percy Jackson & the Olympians Series, Riordan has a style that lends itself to be great summer read providing situational humor, action, and great characters that you really come to care about in books that only take a few days to get through. Personally, my favorites have always been his novels centering on the Greek pantheon, but I know people who love his Egyptian and Norse books too. If you haven’t tried one of these “lesser-known” books yet, don’t let their placement in the back of the bookstore deter you, because there is some good stuff in there.
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Fun fact: black comedy is my personal favorite genre. And that’s what you’ll get with Catch-22, a book about a World War II bomber pilot that explores the absurdities of war. The main character knows he has an incredibly dangerous job and does not want to be forced to fly endless missions like his superiors are ordering, but there’s a catch. You must ask to be exempted from flying all your missions and only a crazy man would willingly fly all his missions. If you fly all your missions without requesting not to, you are considered insane and unable to fly a plane so you will not be made to fly more missions. If you ask to not be made to fly all your missions, then clearly you are sane and you will be made to fly all your missions. Confused? You’ll get used to it. This book is filled to the brim with one-liners and twisted logic circles like the one above. It’s one of the most depressingly hilarious (yes, you read that right) books I’ve ever read. Nor is it a fast or easy read, despite the fact that it is written in contemporary language. Nevertheless, I fell in love with this novel last summer, and perhaps this summer you will too.
The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Imagine Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Now add poverty, racism, alcoholism, and soul-crushing depression… This black comedy is about a teen boy growing up on a Native American reservation. Our protagonist chooses to leave “the rez” every day to attend an all-white school in a neighboring town. The most incredible thing I found about this book is how accurately the narrator sees the world around him and the people who inhabit it. A small handful of characters are portrayed as villains, but the narrator often understands their motives. This is a very fast read. My first time through, I couldn’t put it down and finished it all in one sitting. If you are looking for an eye-opening (and funny) book that honestly and sincerely addresses a plethora of contemporary issues, this is the book for you.
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
Now time for a non-fiction entry. (Put away your torches and pitchforks, people, and give it a chance.) This is the biography that inspired the Broadway smash Hamilton. Why not spend your summer walking in the mental footsteps of Lin-Manuel Miranda? The book, by Ron Chernow, feels more like a novel, overflowing with drama and characters rather than dates and dry text. You probably won’t be able to get tickets to the musical, but if you still want to experience the founding fathers with life breathed into them, take a look at where it all started.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
What makes this book so amazing is the narrator. The story of a little girl in World War II Germany is told from the point of view of Death. It’s as depressing as it sounds, but I swear it’s worth it. The charters are unforgettable, and the writing is top notch. If you don’t mind possibly sheading a few tears this summer, give this one a try.
The Once and Future King by Sir Thomas Malory
Looking for a book to jump-start your existential crisis this summer (especially if you’re going to be a high school senior this fall)? This is it. The book follows King Arthur and those closest to him over the course of almost their entire lives. All the characters, even the “perfect” King Arthur, wrestle with relatable questions of morality, loyalty, loss of innocence, and if the ends truly justify the means. I will admit that the first part is slow, but the other three parts do not let up on the action.
Dune by Frank Herbet
If you’re staring down a long and uneventful summer, Dune is the perfect way to escape your boredom. This book will consume your life. It’s an epic in every sense of the word, including length. Let me say it again: this book is loooong. But it’s considered one of the greatest works of science fiction of all time and well worth your time. Dune explores questions of religion, loyalty, what it truly means to be human, and all sorts of other things that make high school English teachers squeal with joy.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
We are officially heading into classics territory! Don’t worry; almost everyone loves this 1920s novel about love and the American dream. This book does have the flowery language of the era, but it is far easier to read than Charles Dickens since all the words and phrases are still rather common today. (This is actually a good “starter” classic for that very reason.) If you love the Jazz Age, love love, or want to cure your distaste for all the classic novels they assign in high school, you’ve got to give Gatsby a try.
Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne
Confession: this is my favorite book. First published in 1864, it’s a true adventure classic. I highly recommend it for long, monotonous road trips that seem like they’ll never end. The antiquated language of the era that often deters modern readers is actually used remarkably well to share the scope of the adventure and the wonders the characters encounter. If you feel like you’re trapped somewhere this summer, give this book a try and go on an adventure to the center of the world!
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Harper Lee’s Southern Gothic novel is about a girl named Scout, and she is the absolute best. The book follows what is essentially her loss of innocence, as she realizes the racist and hypocritical views of the town she has held dear all her life. This book is one of my favorites, and I cannot recommend it enough. It conveys some powerful messages as Scout sees adult issues through the eyes of a child. Even though To Kill a Mockingbird is required reading in most American high schools, it’s a book you’ll want to enjoy on your own time too.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
This is one of the most banned books of all time…and one of the most assigned books in high schools. How does that not make you curious?! This is the ultimate teen angst book. (There are 13 curse words in the first chapter. I counted.) It follows in the mind of our narrator, Holden Caulfield, as he is kicked out of boarding school. I have never read a book that captures the teen thought process as well as this one (hence, all the swearing). Throughout the book, we see him do good things for bad reasons and bad things for good reasons, but you get an inside (if unreliable) glimpse into his frame of mind and why he did it. If your high school has it banned, go ahead and give it a try this summer!
What books are you reading this summer? Did we leave out any of your favorites? Tell us on twitter!