You may or may not have been eager to read Shakespeare as a teenager, but it’s likely that the classics you encountered in high school left a lasting mark on you.
The books we read in our formative years stay with us long after, often becoming lifetime favorites. The universality of our favorite required reading books is one of their best traits, and this is furthered by the fact that most of us encountered them during our teenage years. They’re required for a reason!
1. Hamlet by William Shakespeare
It’s hard to get out of high school without reading any Shakespeare, and his works show us a lot about literary history. Hamlet’s characteristically indecisive nature is at once infuriating and relatable to most high school students, but we love it beyond the curriculum for its complex take on revenge and tragedy.
Page count: 416
Publish date: 1603
2. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Ellison’s masterful novel creates an intricate web of metaphors that examine the invisibility of the black body in the US—a topic as heartbreakingly relevant today as it was during the novel’s publication in 1952. While many students may wrestle with the complex life of the unnamed narrator, the themes of identity and power are bound to leave a lasting effect on readers.
Page count: 192
Publish date: April 14, 1952
This novella examines the notion of civilization and its potential to degrade in many situations. The more dramatic points, such as Simon’s and Piggy’s deaths, are intensely memorable. We love this novella for its ability to remind us that civilization is not inherent, which is a revolutionary and rebellious, but crucial, notion.
Page count: 182
Publish date: 1954
One of the most divisive books of the required reading genre, Salinger’s solitary novel remains a favorite to many people after high school graduation. The story follows distraught-and-disillusioned-teen Holden Caulfield as he works through ideas of identity and loss while making a solo journey through New York City. Holden’s journey takes on different meanings to different generations, and the gravity of his coming-of-age experience resonates especially well with teenagers.
Page count: 277
Publish date: July 16, 1951
5. The Crucible by Arthur Miller
Arthur Miller’s play examines the rise of McCarthyism through an allegorical lens: the Salem witch trials. This work is particularly valuable in the classroom, because it teaches about two significant points in American history at once. The play also serves as a cautionary tale in many ways, warning against the pull of group hysteria and advocating for the value of truth.
Page count: 143
Publish date: January 22, 1953
In what many consider to be the classic American novel, Fitzgerald unpacks the idea of the American dream. You may have been excited to read this book given the glitz and glamour that the 1920s setting implies. Hopefully, even after the sparkle wears off as you get further into Gatsby’s life, the depth of the book still held you. The Great Gatsby remains well-loved, even outside of the classroom, as its brutally honest debunking of the American dream rings true across generations.
Page count: 182
Publish date: April 10, 1925
7. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
Gregor Samsa’s transformation into a ungeziefer (a German word which roughly translates to “vermin” or “insect”—an incredibly insulting term) tells a larger story about class relations. This novella hooks younger readers in with its dark yet whimsical plot as well as one of the most well-known opening lines in fiction: “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.” You may have been surprised or even confused when Gregor’s sweet sister turns on her transformed brother, making the story’s ultimate message about work and societal value that much more potent.
Page count: 201
Publish date: 1915
Voted as America’s favorite book, Lee’s debut masterpiece sells millions of copies each year to this day. We love To Kill a Mockingbird now just as much as we did in high school for its power to affect the reader with a deep sense of empathy and compassion. This book remains talked about and studied for a multitude of reasons, even in recent times—a testament to the nuance of one of the most-readable required books.
Page count: 324
Publish date: July 11, 1960