15 Books to Read Before You Graduate High School


Honorable mention: Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.

Lauren Ciudad, Staff Writer

When you ask someone about the benefits of reading, chances are they’ll tell you how great it is for increasing your vocabulary and comprehension skills. But, the best part about reading is getting lost in a story you love or a topic that truly engages your curiosity. From one bookworm to another, here are 15 books to read before you don that blue cap and gown. 


#15 – Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Rumored to soon receive a movie adaptation on HBO Max, Green’s novel is a touching depiction of mental illness and learning to cope with difficult situations. (It’s also basically a detective story, so bonus points for the mystery!) 

John Green is no stranger to young adult fiction, and as one of his latest works, Turtles All the Way Down seems to prove he’s still up to date with teen culture since the release of his debut novel, Looking for Alaska, way back in 2005. 


#14 – The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man is a collection of 1951 science fiction stories that are all connected by a common denominator: a former carnival worker with a ton of tattoos. But, all of his tattoos tell a different story or even tell the future. 

Featuring famous stories such as “The Veldt,” this frequent change of pace and plot is sure to keep you from being bored. Perhaps it’ll even convince you not to get that tattoo your parents warned you not to get. 


#13 – The Shining by Stephen King 

Well, this one is certainly a no-brainer. The Shining was not only written by the King of Horror (pun intended) but it is also probably one of the most well-known horror movies of all time! Although it’s safe to say, there are definitely some key differences between print and film. 

As with a lot of King’s works, The Shining is intriguingly tied to his own life in at least one way. Like they say, “Write what you know!”


#12 – The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Dashner’s The Maze Runner has been one of the top modern dystopian fiction novels for teens since its release in 2009. It gained even more popularity with the release of a film adaptation in 2014. Often grouped together with other 2000s teen dystopian novels like The Hunger Games and Divergent, those who enjoyed either will probably find themselves reading The Maze Runner with just as much excitement. 


#11 – Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Butler’s Kindred melds time travel together with U.S. history in the most appealing way. Kindred engages readers in Dana’s story as she travels between her present time and the cruel history of slavery in America, building a better understanding of our troubling societal past. As far as pre-COVID 9th grade goes, this book has been a staple in some classrooms at Sayreville War Memorial. 


#10 – The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

This memoir is so much more than just sophomore-year summer reading. It’s a real look at family, struggles, and resilience. Walls’ The Glass Castle details her difficult upbringing in an oddly dysfunctional family as well as her ever-evolving and complicated views on her own parents. Walls’ life story will break your heart just as much as it can make you chuckle at the most peculiar times. 


#9 – The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Another piece of historical fiction, The Help also depicts the struggles of Black Americans. While it’s on the more lighthearted side of Civil Rights historical fiction, the novel goes through the relationship between black maids and their white employers. The story is fun, touching, and thought-provoking. And of course, who can ever resist reading through Minny’s famous pie scene? 


#8 – Warcross by Marie Lu

Readers can never get enough of Emika Chen’s action-packed story in Warcross. Emika, a young bounty hunter, catches criminals who place bets on the virtual reality game Warcross. That is until she meets the game’s creator. 

Fans of Neal Shusterman’s Scythe and Marissa Meyer’s Cinder will feel right at home with Lu’s novel. Its story is compelling enough to entice them to pick up Wildcard, the following book in Emika’s journey. 


#7 – Christine by Stephen King 

Of course, Stephen King makes the list again with the 1983 horror novel Christine. King’s chilling novel follows protagonist Arnie Cunningham and his involvement not only with his girlfriend but also a strange obsession with the haunted red car, Christine. King manages to make a car totally terrifying, and Arnie’s spiral into obsession is even scarier than the car itself. (Seriously, ask your parents if they’ve read the book or seen the movie. It seems silly on the surface, but it’s downright creepy!) Attempt this read if you dare, but be warned: It’s a heftier one as well. 


#6 – Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier 

A 1938 adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre with a twist, Du Maurier’s mysterious yet romantic novel keeps readers on their toes. Featuring an unnamed protagonist, the story following her marriage to wealthy widower Maxim de Winter seems sweet at first. But there’s a dark secret within the walls of Maxim’s estate, and obsessed housekeeper Mrs. Danvers knows more than she lets on. 

Most intriguingly, the unique technique of having an unnamed protagonist gives the readers more room for exploration. Some have even said it may have been written that way to be one of the earliest self-insert stories. (Move over, Wattpad!) Or maybe, just by omitting a first name, it forces readers to think. Who is she if nothing to the late Rebecca? 


#5 – Heartless by Marissa Meyer

If Disney is your thing, this is the book for you! (Or maybe you just really like Lewis Carroll.) Heartless is a clever retelling and prequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that follows Cath Pinkerton, who isn’t exactly interested in becoming a queen. If you’ve ever wondered how the Queen of Hearts came to be, Meyer’s emotional rollercoaster of a novel writes a heart-wrenching (and frustrating) backstory for one of Disney’s and Lewis Carroll’s most beloved villains. 

#4 – Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Stuck on a deserted island with your school’s choir? What would you do? Okay, so maybe we haven’t all thought about it. Golding’s classic novel is a violent mesh of the dystopian, bildungsroman, adventure, and allegorical genres. Although theoretically horrifying, Lord of the Flies takes a closer look at the human psyche, our impulses, our unfortunately natural savagery, and our responses to a hostile or life-threatening environment. Featuring emotionally and psychologically diverse characters as well as fascinating allegories, Golding creates a memorable story that is still referenced in media today. 


#3 – The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

Holocaust victim Anne Frank’s diary, where she wrote her thoughts and feelings during hiding, is still one of the most famous nonfiction books of all time. It’s probably safe to say that Anne Frank continues to be a prominent historical figure associated with the tragedy of the Holocaust and World War II since the diary’s publication in 1947. Thus, it’s clear the piece of history should remain a staple of students and adults alike, continuing to open people’s eyes to what happened within the Secret Annex walls. 


#2 – The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

You’re never too old for a good P.J.O. book. Riordan’s first installation of Percy Jackson’s journey is arguably the most exhilarating and fun. Based on Greek mythology, all of Riordan’s characters are unique and unforgettable in the most lovable way possible. Characters like Grover steal fans’ hearts, and characters like Clarisse may infuriate others. The fun energy throughout the novel makes it definitely worth reading during difficult times like stressful exam seasons. 

#1 – Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley

Written in the author’s late teens, Frankenstein isn’t exactly what was put onto the silver screen. Its story was actually very different on paper. Developing the theme of good versus evil, or the lack thereof, Mary Shelley’s novel also tackles the dangers within the quickly-paced advancements of science in the early 1800s. But, like many pieces of classic literature, the heavy and detailed thematics still apply in today’s society. While there are too many intricacies in Shelley’s Frankenstein to cover in a concise manner, the little details are sure to quench your thirst for curiosity. 


With new additions to your “To Be Read” list, you’re ready to take on a new challenge, whether that’s stepping out of your comfort zone or just finding another book that’s right up your alley. Maybe you’ll even choose to read all of them. No matter where your literary path may lead, remember to have fun. Happy reading!