Lord of the Flies

by William Golding

The Hired Girl

Laura Amy Schlitz

Summer Reading: Dive In

Summer Reading: Dive In

Summer reading. A cruel fact of high school life. You've just beaten your way through an academic year's worth of assigned texts. Whose idea of summer involves...more assigned texts?

Perhaps there's something to be said for keeping your brain primed and ready for September. But summer should still be summer, right? If you're going to have a reading list to plow through, can't it be...fun?

Well, YES! (I'm so glad you asked.) Here's 60second Recap's summer reading list for 2014. Below, you'll find a selection of titles from the Young Adult shelf that will take you on a tour of the most important themes in literature—and have you ready to rock this fall. Even better, these are books that may actually feel like, well, a vacation.

Captivating stories. Big ideas. Read on.

Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt | Books for Teens: 60second Book ReviewThe Hero’s Journey

Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt. Like thousands of tortured students that have come before you, you probably know that Homer’s Odyssey is a tough sell during the school year. As summer reading? Good luck with that, teachers. So how about a book that’s not just an odyssey, but an odyssey featuring a smart, courageous protagonist? A hero, really.

Homecoming, like Homer's Odyssey, focuses on a central theme: homecoming. But author Cynthia Voigt, unlike Homer, doesn’t bury her main message in hundreds of lines of poetry.
We Were Liars by E. Lockhart | 60second Book Review

The Angst-Ridden Innocent

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. I don’t have anything against The Catcher in the Rye. It’s just that if I’m going to read about a bunch of phonies, and the angst-ridden teenagers in their midst who are trying to navigate the path to adulthood, We Were Liars is a little more fun.

Don’t worry: Liars is still chock full of confusion, moodiness, and anxiety. It crackles with a similar theme of alienation. Unlike Catcher, however, We Were Liars actually has a plot.

A Hope in the Unseen by Ron Suskind | 60second Book Review by Jenny SawyerThe Striver

A Hope in the Unseen by Ron Suskind. Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations is a morality tale about class, and the importance of good character. Why not read a book with the same message, but without the heavy-handed Victorian moralizing?

Like Great Expectations, A Hope in the Unseen is a bildungsroman—a story about growing up. But its nuanced portrayal of economic disparities, and the expectations that are both our salvation, and our undoing, is perfect for students obsessed with the college rat race. (That's you.)

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys | 60second Book ReviewThe Dysfunctional Family

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys. In Wuthering Heights, the oppressive atmosphere isn’t just the story’s setting; it also telegraphs volumes about this novel’s characters and themes. So, too, with Out of the Easy, where New Orleans’ air of smooth seduction threatens the hopes and dreams of our winning main character.

Like Wuthering Heights, Out of the Easy tackles themes of passion, dysfunctional families, and the past’s tendency to repeat itself. Unlike Wuthering Heights, it’s actually an enjoyable read.

All the Truth That's in Me | 60second Book ReviewThe Psychology of Guilt

All the Truth That’s in Me by Julie Berry. Guilt changes people. So goes the story of Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment, and Dimmesdale, Chillingworth, and Hester in The Scarlet Letter. In All the Truth That’s in Me, guilt wreaks similar havoc on a backwoods community after protagonist Judith returns with a terrible secret that she’s both physically—and emotionally—unable to express.

There’s no doubt in my mind that both Dostoevsky and Hawthorne were masters at exploring the psychology of guilt, but for a book with similar resonances that’s also teen-friendly, I have to recommend All the Truth That’s in Me.

Godless by Pete Hautman | Books for Teens: 60second Book Review by Jenny SawyerThe Religious Guru

Godless by Pete Hautman. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say that Pete Hautman read Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood and decided to write a YA version. Both books explore themes of faith, and even grace. And both feature protagonists who start their own (questionable) churches that attract casts of misfits.

Unlike Wise Blood, though, Hautman’s story passes on the rampant sinfulness and dwells, instead, on a theme every teenager can relate to: What’s the point of believing in anything?

Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler | Books for Teens: 60second Book Review by Jenny SawyerThe Drama of Opposites

Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler. OK, I actually like Jane Eyre a lot. But the density of Brontë’s book, and its messages, are probably best read in a guided setting. For the summer, sink your teeth into the poignant—and hilarious—Rapture Practice, a coming-of-age (real-life) drama of opposites.

Like Jane Eyre, it deals with the tug-of-war between morality and the desires of the heart, between being true to yourself and being true to what society (or family) says you should be.

Unlike Jane Eyre, no crazy ladies in the attic. Just plenty of crazies.

Got a question we can help with?

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  • Caroline Carpenter

    Is there a need to criticise the classics in favour of the newer titles? Can’t we just appreciate both?

  • hank p

    Hmm. I don’t think of this website as being in the business of classics-bashing. In fact, I wonder whether you’ve missed the point of this post, which is that there are alternatives to 2000+ year old texts, alternatives more accessible to 21st century teens. This article says, yes, you may find Homer and Bronte tough-sledding but that doesn’t mean you don’t like to read. It doesn’t mean you can’t explore similar grand literary themes expressed through a contemporary vernacular. It’s an important point to make in this tragically “post-literate” age, don’t you think?

    That said, I find both The Catcher in the Rye and its “phony” author quite insufferable. Delighted to encounter someone with the nerve to declare that emperor naked. But I digress…

  • Caroline Carpenter

    I can’t comment on this website in general, as this is the first article I’ve read on it, but I haven’t missed the point of the post at all. I can see that it is trying to do exactly what you say and I think that in itself is a good idea, but it does come across as slightly negative towards the older books, which I think is a shame. When I was a teenager (not that long ago, though longer than I’d like!), I read both modern novels and “classics” and I think there’s room for both. Maybe I am just nit-picking but I think it would’ve been great to see the article flipped the other way i.e. “if you liked this contemporary YA book, you might like this classic book…”

    But but…Allie! The baseball glove! Ah well, we’re all entitled to our opinions, I was just expressing mine 🙂

    P.S. – I do think this article makes a good point in that maybe school reading lists should mix up classic and contemporary YA books to help engage readers (and acknowledge the great books that are coming out now).

  • Jenny Sawyer

    Caroline, You make a good point: Let’s not miss an opportunity to alert the new generation of readers to the classics. I couldn’t agree more: Not only is there room for both old and new, there must be!

    At the same time, I’m mindful of the fact that the classical literary
    canon is well-represented in the classroom. That’s a great thing, of
    course (cf., my definition of “hero”: A teacher introducing a classroom
    of restless 16-year-olds to Elizabethan drama written in iambic
    pentameter!). But it also means that many teens come to view these
    classics not so much as art, but as homework–something to be endured and then forgotten, and as soon as possible.

    This website is dedicated to combating that “classics fatigue.”
    The goal has been to showcase the continued relevance of great
    literature–and to engage teens with these works. One way we do that:
    By showcasing contemporary titles (http://www.60secondrecap.com/60second-book-review/) and showing how they explore many of the same literary themes. The message that (I hope) comes through: The classics remain with us because their themes remain timeless.

    We’re gradually building this concept out in the study guide section of the website as well. For example, you’ll notice here (http://www.60secondrecap.com/study-guide/john-steinbeck-of-mice-and-men-summary/), how we show the connection not just between classic works of literature, but also between the classics and contemporary writing for teenagers. Or in this video (http://www.60secondrecap.com/study-guide/beowulf-recap/), the way I propose that the message of Beowulf is both relevant and enduring. You’ll find similar themes in many of my videos.

    I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on this, and on how we’re doing,
    whenever you have them. It’s all a work in progress, after all–much
    like life itself!


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