Top 10 Tuesday: 10 Books I Would Have Loved as Required Reading When I was in High School

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.  Top Ten Tuesday has been one of my favorite memes ever since I started blogging, so huge thanks to Jana for taking over the hosting duties!

This week’s TTT topic is Back to School/Learning Freebie (in honor of school starting back up soon, come up with your own topic that fits the theme of school or learning! Books that take place at school/boarding school/during study abroad, books you read in school, textbooks you liked/didn’t like, non-fiction books you loved or want to read, etc.).

When I think about back to school, the first thing that pops into my head is Required Reading.  Now I have to say that I was lucky.  Even though I don’t like for anyone to require me to do anything, and I was even stubborn about that as a teen than I am now, I can honestly say that I actually enjoyed almost every book that I had to read for school.  There were a few snooze fests for sure, but by and large, many of my required readings ended up becoming favorites.  That said, however, I’m pretty sure I was in the minority on this and that for most students, required reading is nothing more than an eye-roll fest.   And I can’t say that I blame them.  At least when I was in school anyway, most of the required readings were written by what we called DWMs (Dead White Males) and even though they were well written, the material was dated and rarely felt relevant.  I never understood why schools didn’t choose more modern reads that students could better relate to.  Shouldn’t they be fostering a love of reading rather than making it such a chore for most kids?  Can’t you just as easily teach about literary themes and devices with books that students might actually relate to?

Anyway, mini rant over…but it did get me thinking.  If I wasn’t the book lover that I am, what are some books that I still would have  ended up really enjoying if I had been required to read them in school?  You’ll notice that my list is mostly filled with what I hope would be powerful and unforgettable reads, mainly contemporaries that would be more relevant and relatable than say something set in Victorian England.  I also tried to throw in some historical fiction, nonfiction, and even a little fantasy (Why don’t kids read more fantasy in school anyway?).  And yes, I did put one DWM on my list with Tolkien, but I’ve known several young people, my nephew included, who wanted to become writers after reading Tolkien so I’m going to consider his works timeless.


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10 Books I Would Have Loved as Required Reading When I was in High School






The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas:  Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.

Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.

But what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.



Letters to the Lost by Brigid Kemmerer: Juliet Young always writes letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother’s death, she leaves letters at her grave. It’s the only way Juliet can cope.

Declan Murphy isn’t the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he’s trying to escape the demons of his past.

When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can’t resist writing back. Soon, he’s opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither Declan nor Juliet knows that they’re not actually strangers. When life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, sparks will fly as Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart.


Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley:  This is a love story.  It’s the story of Howling Books, where readers write letters to strangers, to lovers, to poets.  It’s the story of Henry Jones and Rachel Sweetie. They were best friends once, before Rachel moved to the sea.  Now, she’s back, working at the bookstore, grieving for her brother Cal and looking for the future in the books people love, and the words they leave behind.



Dear Martin by Nic Stone:  Raw, captivating, and undeniably real, Nic Stone joins industry giants Jason Reynolds and Walter Dean Myers as she boldly tackles American race relations in this stunning debut.

Justyce McAllister is top of his class and set for the Ivy League—but none of that matters to the police officer who just put him in handcuffs. And despite leaving his rough neighborhood behind, he can’t escape the scorn of his former peers or the ridicule of his new classmates. Justyce looks to the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for answers. But do they hold up anymore? He starts a journal to Dr. King to find out.

Then comes the day Justyce goes driving with his best friend, Manny, windows rolled down, music turned up—way up, sparking the fury of a white off-duty cop beside them. Words fly. Shots are fired. Justyce and Manny are caught in the crosshairs. In the media fallout, it’s Justyce who is under attack.




Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone by J.K. Rowling:  Harry Potter’s life is miserable. His parents are dead and he’s stuck with his heartless relatives, who force him to live in a tiny closet under the stairs. But his fortune changes when he receives a letter that tells him the truth about himself: he’s a wizard. A mysterious visitor rescues him from his relatives and takes him to his new home, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

After a lifetime of bottling up his magical powers, Harry finally feels like a normal kid. But even within the Wizarding community, he is special. He is the boy who lived: the only person to have ever survived a killing curse inflicted by the evil Lord Voldemort, who launched a brutal takeover of the Wizarding world, only to vanish after failing to kill Harry.

Though Harry’s first year at Hogwarts is the best of his life, not everything is perfect. There is a dangerous secret object hidden within the castle walls, and Harry believes it’s his responsibility to prevent it from falling into evil hands. But doing so will bring him into contact with forces more terrifying than he ever could have imagined.

Full of sympathetic characters, wildly imaginative situations, and countless exciting details, the first installment in the series assembles an unforgettable magical world and sets the stage for many high-stakes adventures to come.



The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien:  One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkeness bind them

In ancient times the Rings of Power were crafted by the Elven-smiths, and Sauron, The Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and though he sought it throughout Middle-earth, it remained lost to him. After many ages it fell into the hands of Bilbo Baggins, as told in The Hobbit.

In a sleepy village in the Shire, young Frodo Baggins finds himself faced with an immense task, as his elderly cousin Bilbo entrusts the Ring to his care. Frodo must leave his home and make a perilous journey across Middle-earth to the Cracks of Doom, there to destroy the Ring and foil the Dark Lord in his evil purpose.







Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi:  A novel of breathtaking sweep and emotional power that traces three hundred years in Ghana and along the way also becomes a truly great American novel. Extraordinary for its exquisite language, its implacable sorrow, its soaring beauty, and for its monumental portrait of the forces that shape families and nations, Homegoing heralds the arrival of a major new voice in contemporary fiction.

Two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.

Generation after generation, Yaa Gyasi’s magisterial first novel sets the fate of the individual against the obliterating movements of time, delivering unforgettable characters whose lives were shaped by historical forces beyond their control. Homegoing is a tremendous reading experience, not to be missed, by an astonishingly gifted young writer.


Code Name Verity by Elizabeth E. Wein:  Oct. 11th, 1943 – A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it’s barely begun.

When “Verity” is arrested by the Gestapo, she’s sure she doesn’t stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she’s living a spy’s worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.

As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage and failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy?

Harrowing and beautifully written, Elizabeth Wein creates a visceral read of danger, resolve, and survival that shows just how far true friends will go to save each other. Code Name Verity is an outstanding novel that will stick with you long after the last page.


The Book Thief by Markus Zusak:  Trying to make sense of the horrors of World War II, Death relates the story of Liesel–a young German girl whose book-stealing and story-telling talents help sustain her family and the Jewish man they are hiding, as well as their neighbors.





I Am Malala:  The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai:  I come from a country that was created at midnight. When I almost died it was just after midday.

When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan, one girl spoke out. Malala Yousafzai refused to be silenced and fought for her right to an education.

On Tuesday, October 9, 2012, when she was fifteen, she almost paid the ultimate price. She was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding the bus home from school, and few expected her to survive.

Instead, Malala’s miraculous recovery has taken her on an extraordinary journey from a remote valley in northern Pakistan to the halls of the United Nations in New York. At sixteen, she has become a global symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

I Am Malala is the remarkable tale of a family uprooted by global terrorism, of the fight for girls’ education, of a father who, himself a school owner, championed and encouraged his daughter to write and attend school, and of brave parents who have a fierce love for their daughter in a society that prizes sons.


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What are some books you would have loved to have as required reading when you were in high school?

44 replies
  1. Annemieke
    Annemieke says:

    I am Malala would be awesome as required reading. Though I haven’t read it myself I imagine it is quite an eye opener. But everything else on your list too.

    • Suzanne
      Suzanne says:

      I think I would have loved The Nightingale and All the Light We Cannot See too. I haven’t read Thirteen Reasons Why yet.

  2. Verushka
    Verushka says:

    You have articulated so much better what i was trying to say abt the same thing in school and the classics always by DWMs we had to read SIGHS my wish was to have read more genre or mystery books, along with contemporary books with meaning to contemporary readers. Man classics i get why they’re classics but schools need to evolve …

  3. Angela
    Angela says:

    Great list! I Am Malala would be a great book for high schoolers to read, and I think Code Name Verity would be an awesome historical fiction for them, too. Classics are good, but I think schools should try to mix it up more and bring in some more contemporary stuff. Even if they’re not classics (yet), they talk about issues that are more relevant to today’s kids.

  4. Tammy @ Books, Bones & Buffy
    Tammy @ Books, Bones & Buffy says:

    I love this list! I honestly don’t remember much about required reading in school, I don’t think I had as much as my kids do today, but I do think administrators need to refresh their reading lists. There are so many amazing books out today that everyone should be reading.

  5. ShootingStarsMag
    ShootingStarsMag says:

    I liked most of the books I had to read for school too, but I definitely think school reading (especially in high school) needs to be a bit more modern and diverse. You can still have some older titles, but mix it up too! I’d be all about Code Name Verity and The Book Thief as required reading…and Harry Potter, of course. 🙂


    • Suzanne
      Suzanne says:

      Yes, I completely agree. There are so many amazing diverse reads out there that I think students would really connect with.

  6. Alice @ A Reader's Fiction
    Alice @ A Reader's Fiction says:

    Great list – I would have loved having these books as my required reading! I definitely agree with your point that required reading should include relevant books students could relate to, particularly books like The Hate U Give and I Am Malala 🙂
    My TTT

  7. Cholla
    Cholla says:

    I remember being so excited when one of our assigned books in 8th grade was The Hobbit! My kids have had much better choices over the last few years. Ready Player One, The Glass Castle, and The Hunger Games to name a few. How did they get so lucky?

    Here is our Top Ten Tuesday. Thank you!

    • Suzanne
      Suzanne says:

      I hope that my son will have some good choices as he gets older. He’s just moving into middle grade books now so we’ll see how it goes.

  8. Literary Feline
    Literary Feline says:

    Yes to all of these! I have mixed feelings about required reading, but these are all books I think everyone should consider reading. I haven’t read all of them–but I want to. Of those I have read, all were amazing books.

    • Suzanne
      Suzanne says:

      I have very mixed feelings about required reading too. I like it in the sense that it probably made me read some great books that I otherwise may never have picked up, but at the same time, I don’t like the lack of freedom to read what I want to read.

  9. Brittany
    Brittany says:

    My third grade teacher read Harry Potter and the Scorer’s Stone to us! It wasn’t high school but it was still sort of school required reading 😀 Great list!

  10. Jordan
    Jordan says:

    What a great list! I completely agree with your thoughts on required reading–there were a few gems (Frankenstein, for instance, was a good choice that I got to read), but so many were just unnecessary. I would have loved to read any of these books–especially if Tolkien were on the list!

  11. Tanya @ Girl Plus Books
    Tanya @ Girl Plus Books says:

    I’m so impressed that you enjoyed most of your required reading in school. Like you, I disliked being told what to read. But unlike you, and despite being the total “good girl”, I totally dug my heels in a refused to budge when it came to be told what I had to read. I B.S.’d my way through all my required reading. The only time I remember actually trying was for Orwell’s 1984 and even then I only made it about a third of the way through. LOL

    I love your inclusion of Letters to the Lost. That book made such an impression on me and I’m actually reading More Than We Can Tell right now.

  12. Lisa @ Captivated Reader
    Lisa @ Captivated Reader says:

    I loved I Am Malala!!

    I finished reading Dear Martin last weekend and my review of it is going to be published tomorrow on my blog. I was a bit disappointed… Don’t get me wrong, I liked Dear Martin, but was expecting more from it due to the topic and all the hype surrounding it… I think Dear Martin addresses some really hot topics relevant today, so was was excited to read this young adult novel for its thought provoking points.

    I read Why We Can’t Wait by Martin Luther King, Jr. earlier this year and LOVED it. This nonfiction book should be required reading in schools.

    Here’s a link to my TTT post for this week:

  13. Greg
    Greg says:

    I agree so much- use books that kids will actually enjoy and not dread, or have to plow through. I like your list. The Hate You Give is a great choice, and as an LotR fan I of course agree with Lord of the Rings. 🙂

    More fantasy in general would be nice, very true. And The Book Thief I know was covered last year at our school, so I was happy to see that.

    • Suzanne
      Suzanne says:

      I don’t understand why there isn’t more fantasy reading required in school. I think it’s just as important a genre as anything else they have kids read.

  14. Sam@WLABB
    Sam@WLABB says:

    When I was teaching, I remember one of my students reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Though I thought the book was a little intense for HS (and this student was very uncomfortable with it as well), I did appreciate that it was a more modern novel. I would love to see books geared towards teens read in school, because there are tons of really great ones out there.

    • Suzanne
      Suzanne says:

      Right? There are so many beautifully written contemporaries that I just know kids would connect with so much more than the classics.

  15. Bookworm
    Bookworm says:

    Great list! Harry Potter and Tolkien are favorites.
    I agree that required reading should also be relatable. The required reads I enjoyed from school were Animal Farm, I Know why the Caged Bird Sings and Catcher in the Rye.

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