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Top 10 Best Classic Novels Recommended by Real Students

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  • 1. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
    A shepherd boy named Santiago embarks on a quest to discover his Personal Legend, encountering spiritual teachings and life lessons while searching for a hidden treasure. The novel explores themes of destiny, self-discovery, and the interconnectedness of all things.

    What students are saying:
    "It inspires people to follow their dreams." — Natailya B., New York

    "It's filled with symbolism, and it has themes of self-discovery and resilience." — Carlos L., New York

    "The book explores intuition and the interconnectedness of the universe." — Lianis C., Florida

    Author's education: Law school (non-graduate)
  • 2. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
    A novel set in the Roaring Twenties, this story focuses on the enigmatic millionaire Jay Gatsby and his obsessive pursuit of lost love Daisy Buchanan amid the opulence and moral decay of the era. Narrated by Daisy's cousin Nick Carraway, the story explores themes of wealth, love, and the elusive American Dream.

    What students are saying:
    "A story about love, wealth, and dissatisfaction in the 1920s." — Kuldiya Z., New York

    "A beautiful book and a great short read for the summer!" — Gwen B., Pennsylvania

    "Nick's unreliable narration truly makes the novel even more fun!" — Adam T., Massachusetts

    Author's education: Non-graduate: Princeton University (Princeton, NJ)
  • 3. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
    Set in the racially divided town of Maycomb, Alabama, during the Great Depression, this classic shows the world through the eyes of young Scout Finch. The story explores themes of racism, injustice, and moral growth as Scout's father defends an innocent Black man accused of sexually assaulting a White woman.

    What students are saying:
    "One of the most powerful books I've read." — Audrey G., Texas

    "I recommend it because it's been recently banned in some places." — Kimberly C., Florida

    "A must-read that explores the harms of prejudice from a child's outlook." — Audrey W., Virginia

    Author's education: Law school (non-graduate): The University of Alabama (Tuscaloosa, AL)
  • 4. 1984 by George Orwell
    In a totalitarian society controlled by a repressive government, the world is watched over by its leader, Big Brother. The story follows a man as he rebels against the regime's surveillance, manipulation of truth, and suppression of individuality.

    What students are saying:
    "Its message and warnings about societal power dynamics are invaluable." — Soha J., Texas

    "It's a riveting satire with an engaging plot and excellent social commentary." — Amy K., Florida

    "A dystopian masterpiece that will leave you with many crazy questions." — Saad K., Oklahoma

    Author's education: Police training
  • 5. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
    Follow the rivalry between the Greasers and the Socs in 1960s Oklahoma. This novel follows Ponyboy Curtis as he navigates the challenges of identity, violence, and class divisions, ultimately questioning the boundaries that separate his world from the world of others.

    What students are saying:
    "It's the greatest book because of the loyalty between the characters." — Sofia S., Oregon

    "It speaks many truths about teenage life and the teenage experience." — Derek E., DC

    "Its a fantastic coming-of-age novel." — Varun K., New Jersey

    Author's education: Education: The University of Tulsa (Tulsa, OK)
  • 6. Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
    In this dystopian novel set in a future society, books are banned and "firemen" burn them to suppress dissent and independent thought. Protagonist Guy Montag begins to question his role and seeks to preserve knowledge and human connection in a world consumed by technology and conformity.

    What students are saying:
    "It encourages one to think about individual thought and expression." — Diego F., Texas

    "An eye-opening dystopian that shows the power of knowledge and individuality." — Ana A., Florida

    "This classic novel will have a burning-hot impact on anyone's summer." — Isabel V., Oklahoma

    Author's education: Los Angeles High School
  • 7. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
    This classic revolves around the societal norms and romantic entanglements of the Bennet family, particularly focusing on the spirited Elizabeth and the enigmatic Mr. Darcy as they navigate misunderstandings and societal expectations on the path to love and understanding in early 19th-century England. The novel explores themes of class, marriage, and individual character while delivering a timeless story of love and self-discovery.

    What students are saying:
    "It is a truth universally acknowledged that Pride and Prejudice is the perfect romantic summer getaway." — Adriana R., Texas

    "It taught me that a sense of self-worth is a powerful tool." — Emma M., Ohio

    "It's fun to read and a great way to start reading classics." — Lindsey B., Ohio
  • 8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
    This epistolary novel follows the experiences of Charlie, a socially awkward teenager who navigates high school life by observing and writing letters to an anonymous friend. Through these letters, Charlie explores themes of friendship, mental health, and self-discovery as he becomes a part of a close-knit group of misfit friends and confronts his troubled past.

    What students are saying:
    "This book had me smiling and sobbing...but in a good way." — Giovanna M., Texas

    "A heartbreakingly beautiful portrayal of the vulnerability of youth." — Kate F., Massachusetts

    "It may seem simplistic but the book has great values." — Mya B.M., Texas

    Author's education: Film Writing and Screenwriting: University of Southern California (Los Angeles, CA)
  • 9. The Giver by Lois Lowry
    In this dystopian novel about a seemingly perfect but highly controlled society, a young man is chosen to inherit the memories of the past from the Giver. As 12-year-old Jonas discovers the dark truths behind his community's facade of sameness and conformity, he embarks on a journey to escape its constraints and bring about change.

    What students are saying:
    "The book is insightful on the importance of freedom and choice." — Jiyi L., Texas

    "It changed my genre preference and has unexpected plot twists!" — Carly K., Minnesota

    "I am not much of a reader, so if I like it, it must be good." — Emma W., Tennessee

    Author's education: English Literature: University of Southern Maine (Gorham, ME)
  • 10. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
    Follow the story of a disenchanted and jaded teenager who embarks on a journey of self-discovery in New York City. Grappling with the phoniness of the adult world and his own sense of alienation, Holden Caulfield's narrative voice provides an intimate and poignant exploration of teenage angst and the search for authenticity.

    What students are saying:
    "It illustrates the questions of identity among youth." — Nina B., Michigan

    "Nothing says summer quite like the boredom, depression, and teenage angst of this book." — Grace Y., Pennsylvania

    "This resonates with many teens who grow up and see the harsh reality of society." — Edgar C., Illinois

    Author's education: Non-graduate: New York University (New York, NY)

Source: CX Student Users

Want more information on how this list was compiled? Find out more about where our Lists & Rankings come from.

About This List

We asked the CollegeXpress student community what book they’d recommend to a friend to read in 2023, and we were blown away by the number of responses we received. We couldn’t keep these amazing books just between us, bestie. We had to share them with you! Out of 15,500+ entries, these are the top 10 best classic and modern classic fiction books recommended by students like you (or maybe even you, yourself). Check out which titles made the cut, where their authors went to college, who achieved success without a formal education, and why students are raving about these stories to help you decide what you’re adding to your reading list.

Classics not your genre? Don’t worry! We also have lists of the Top 10 Best Non-Fiction Reads and the Top 15 Most Popular Fiction Books Recommended by Real Students if those are more your literary style. And keep an eye out for more one-question scholarships and surveys from CX for a chance to get a recommendation of yours added to a future list!

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