With the start of the year in English class comes summer reading quizzes, essays,… and, as always, the guilty few who didn’t read their summer reading book. Summer reading tends to get a bad reputation within the student body. After all, who wants to spend their summer doing schoolwork? However, many of the English books at M-A include diverse characters, interesting plots, and meaningful themes. Some are better than others, so I read almost every summer reading book so you don’t have to! (Just kidding, please read your books.) Let’s hope these grades don’t put me on the English department’s bad side.
English I: I Am Malala (Malala Yousafzai)
Incoming freshmen get to pick their summer reading from a long list of options, divided by genre.
This way, students can choose something they’re interested in. I Am Malala, an autobiography about Malala Yousafzai as a young girl, is one of the options. Yousafzai risks her life fighting for women’s education, beginning a movement in Pakistan and later, the world.
Student’s Rating: B
“I liked the theme, which was that we should always help and uplift each other. She sometimes rambled on about irrelevant stuff and I wondered, why does that matter? It was pretty good and very inspiring, but I just think there are better books.” – Acacia Yoon
My Rating: A-
I always hear people talking about this book, so I was happy to finally get a chance to read it! Malala Yousafzai’s story was inspiring and eye-opening. She was able to connect with all ages; she talks about herself, which youth can identify with, but she also writes about her parents’ struggles. I guess if Malala was willing to risk getting shot for her education, I can do a homework assignment or two! The only thing I didn’t like was her writing style—I think she could show rather than tell a lot more. I understood her story, but it felt a bit two-dimensional.
“This book felt like an honest chat between the author and the world. She unashamedly details the poverty, the cruelty and the losses that her family, and the families around her, suffered.” – Miranda Reads
“It could have used some editing! Some parts were choppy and disjointed; other parts felt immature, (we are reminded that Malala is still very young).” – Elyse Walters
English II: Dear Martin (Nic Stone)
Sophomores in English II get to choose between two young adult novels: Dear Martin by Nic Stone and Feed by M.T. Anderson. This review looks at Dear Martin, a mix of narrative and letters taking place in the 21st century that follows the story of a Black boy named Justyce McAllister and his experiences with racism. A large chunk of the book has letters that Justyce “writes” to Martin Luther King Jr., his hero. These letters show how McAllister’s viewpoint on modern racism and how to handle it evolves.
Student’s Rating: B+
“It was engaging, it grabbed your attention. Stone tended to be long in his explanations and descriptions, sometimes unnecessarily so. But otherwise it was pretty good.” – Anonymous
My Rating: B
I think it’s wonderful that the public is popularizing Black stories, especially those for younger audiences. Dear Martin was able to capture the prevalent racism in America and narrate it in a way that all ages can understand. However, I wasn’t a fan of the way the story was formatted, with many writing mediums, such as letters, script-like dialogue, and news articles. Some readers may find it more engaging, but for me it was distracting and a bit unnecessary. Moreover, I wish they could have found a real person to base the story on; there are plenty of examples in America.
“I was pleasantly surprised to find that the letters complemented the chronological storytelling, and were a great addition in my opinion. I feel Justyce’s story would be incomplete without a place to share his unfiltered thoughts with a figure he aims to emulate.” – Emma Giordano
“While it is important to deconstruct the aggressive thug stereotype associated with young Black men, teens this mild-mannered and uncomplicated are hard to believe in… In contrast, all of the racism is very overt… in reality, it is much more complex than good vs. bad where the bad wears a white hood and shouts racist insults. That is why young black men are so at risk and their murderers so likely to escape justice – because the most dangerous racists no longer wear the t-shirt.” – Emily May
AS English II: Nervous Conditions (Tsitsi Dangarembga)
Due to the merging of AS English I and English I, sophomore year is now students’ first opportunity to take an advanced English course. AS English II begins with reading Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga. Dangarembga writes about a Rhodesian girl in the early 1960s, Tambu, who goes from poverty to a fancy missionary education. As Tambu navigates the new world that comes with her education, she finds the same sexist expectations, discovers the relativity of wealth, and becomes more aware of the negative effects of colonialism in Africa.
Student’s Rating: B
“I liked that the main character Tambu rejected colonization after learning what colonization did, and how it affects people. She expressed autonomy over her own people. The characters changed dramatically since the beginning of the book. For example, the family had this facade at the beginning where they pretended to be this family that they weren’t and it all just broke down. I don’t really like historical fiction but it was still really interesting.” – Chelsea Park
My Rating: B+
The book started out a bit slow and I was tempted to put it down and just read the SparkNotes (not that I would ever endorse reading SparkNotes instead of the actual book). However, I’m really glad I stuck with it! Although Dangarembga rambled on at times, her storytelling skills were amazing—the writing felt like an old woman recounting her life to a group of children. The ending was a little disappointing because it felt like Tambu learned a lot but didn’t do anything with her knowledge.
“These are all complicated, subtle characters. Dangarembga shows their negotiations carefully and skillfully.” – Alex
“What surprised me was Dangarembga’s choice of narrative distance; by having Tambu narrate the story from a distant future, looking back at everything in hindsight, it made it harder to appreciate the peripheral characters as they became more distanced and filtered through the eyes of Tambu who is now wiser and knows better.” – Samir Rawas Sarayji
English III: Just Mercy (Bryan Stevenson)
English III students read about Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer who specializes in death row cases, in particular those involving people of color. His autobiography Just Mercy includes a collection of cases where he did everything in his power to give them legal representation. Heartbreaking but hopeful, this book is meaningful to anyone looking to learn more about how systemic racism impacts the criminal justice system.
Student’s Rating: B
“One of the stories that he goes back to was Walter McMillian and how he was falsely accused. He was at his house with his neighbors and his family, but he was convicted for killing a white girl at a painter’s shop. We watched the movie adaptation in class, and it was very sad. Some people cried. I really liked it because it was really interesting. I don’t really like reading, but it was interesting to me.” – Yaritza Elizondo
My Rating: A-
This book was fascinating. I never knew how prevalent the death penalty was just a few decades ago, and how disproportionally it affects Black people. I liked how much he went in-depth with each client’s story; it helped me see them as humans instead of defining them by their alleged crime. I can see someone who isn’t interested in law getting bored because at times Stevenson wrote with law jargon, but for the most part the language was simple and easy to understand.
“Not since Atticus Finch has a fearless and committed lawyer made such a difference in the American South. Though larger than life, Atticus exists only in fiction. Bryan Stevenson, however, is very much alive and doing God’s work fighting for the poor, the oppressed, the voiceless, the vulnerable, the outcast, and those with no hope.” – John Grisham
“The only slight negative I’ll say is that, structurally, it’s somewhat difficult to keep track of everyone. Walter is the main story… but intermixed with him are many others who sometimes jumble together.” – Justin Tate
AS English III: The Namesake (Jhumpa Lahiri)
Juniors in AS English III follow the story of Gogol, an American-born Indian who struggles with his identity, split between two worlds. As he gets older, his battles with his “Indian self” (Gogol) and “American self” (Nikhil) grow more complex. This is a story that explores the significance of being a second-generation American, the extent of familial obligations, and whether we should let go of those obligations to form our own identities.
Student’s Rating: B
“I liked Lahiri’s writing style—it was different, but still engaging. I disliked the main character. The book is relevant to the class. We have a lot of assignments on it, and we discuss it a lot.” – Alex Chan
My Rating: C+
The pace of the book was agonizingly slow. Lahiri takes readers through Gogol’s life from birth to post-graduate adulthood, and she sure takes her time. I can understand going into depth about the main character’s internal struggles with his identity, but I really don’t need to hear a detailed explanation of every piece of furniture in the house or what sari Gogol’s mother is wearing that day. Still, I couldn’t bring myself to hate this book. There are plenty of Indian-Americans in the country today, but I haven’t seen many books written about the intersection between the two cultures. As someone who is half Indian, I loved seeing aspects of Indian culture and experiences (which were, at times, painfully relatable) woven throughout the book.
“As much as this book was heralded for its exploration of the immigrant experience, as any truly great piece of literature, its lessons are universal… Anyone who has ever been ashamed of their parents, felt the guilty pull of duty, questioned their own identity, or fallen in love, will identify with these intermingling lives.” – Anna
“The almost constant adherence to stereotypes of Indians who immigrate to America as the engineering->Ivy League->repeat, along with every other gender/familial/socioeconomic stereotype known to humanity? Considering the fact that one of my biggest reasons for reading as much as I do is to find a breakdown of these popular culture standards, I was rather disappointed.”- Aubrey
AP English Language: Educated (Tara Westover)
AP English Language, the first AP English class, is for students who want to challenge themselves past AS. But imagine if the first time you walked into a classroom in your life was as a senior at M-A! Part of a survivalist Mormon family who feared the government and its programs, Tara Westover was 17 years old when she first went to school. This book looks at many aspects of education, from its power to its limitations, and how Westover’s unique path to education shaped her life.
Student’s Rating: A
“I thought it was interesting seeing a different perspective because it’s not something you’d ever see if you live here. Sometimes it was a little boring, but I think that’s just because it’s non-fiction which can be boring to me. Even though it’s not my favorite genre, I still really liked reading it.” – Oliver Novak
My Rating: A
Educated is my favorite book I’ve ever had to read for an English class. It wasn’t because of particularly likable characters (they weren’t, in my opinion) or impressive writing. The story was just so unbelievably bizarre to me that the fact that it was a true story made it all the more inspiring. In addition, it covered many themes I think about a lot in my own life: education, family, open-mindedness, and growth.
“Tara’s process of self-discovery is beautifully captured in Educated. It’s the kind of book that I think everyone will enjoy, no matter what genre you usually pick up.” – Bill Gates
“I had a hard time believing some of the information presented. Case in point the first car accident in the book, Tara’s father offered to pay for the damaged tractor. Where did they get the money? Just how much does farm equipment cost?” – Debra
Creative Writing: Flash Fiction Forward (James Thomas and Robert Shapard)
English IV does not have any required reading, but the creative writing class does! Thomas and Shepard help get students’ creative juices flowing with this short story anthology. With stories that are only two to four pages long, you may find yourself done with this book in a flash.
Student’s Rating: B-
“There were 80 different stories, which was interesting because you could hear different voices. It wasn’t all old white guys, which is pretty common. It did feel a bit long, and they all seemed on the sadder side. But it’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just something I noticed. I don’t normally read these kinds of books, but it wasn’t a bad book. It was good for school.” – Ellery Tilson
My Rating: B-
Before reading this book, I had never heard of “flash fiction” before. I can see how this would be a perfect book for a creative writing class; the stories are short and sweet, but I could still get a good idea of the author’s voice and message. I just didn’t like how much of this book was hit-or-miss. There was no obvious central theme across the stories other than they were all short, so I loved some of them and hated others. I guess that can be a positive thing, since it means everyone can find interest in some aspect of the book, but the boredom I felt while reading some of the chapters kept me from really enjoying the book overall.
“With 80 short-short stories by 80 different authors, you can argue that there is something here for everyone, provided that whoever happens to open the book is interested in flash fiction in the first place.” – Mary
“Because the short-short is so, well, short, writers deceive themselves into thinking it’s an easy genre, and to be honest, most of what I read turns out to be silly at best: they’re often sketches in the guise of a story, or scenes that belong in a longer story, or poems having an identity crisis.” – Samuel Snoek-Brown
AP English Literature: The Book of Delights (Ross Gay)
AP Lit students have the delight of reading The Book of Delights, and hopefully they’re dying to read As I Lay Dying, because that’s required too. The Book of Delights is a series of essayettes about Ross Gay’s search for delight in his daily life. From pecans to public toilets, Gay teaches his readers to seek the little delights around them.
Student’s Rating: D
“I enjoyed the whole aspect of being able to appreciate the little things in your life and how that is an important trait that everyone should have. That was my favorite part about it. What I disliked was that I felt his style of writing didn’t speak to me in a way it maybe spoke to others. So since I didn’t feel that connection, I felt like I was reading a senseless collection of essays.” – Sam Ha
My Rating: A-
This book definitely had its ups and downs in terms of engagement, but overall I really enjoyed reading it! The way Gay was able to capture moments of his life with words was magical; I felt like I was really there with him, not only visualizing the story but feeling his emotions. It’s also a great book for incoming seniors because his delights could be examples for a great Common App essay. Sometimes, however, I felt like his writing was a little too informal, which made it difficult to see what point he was actually trying to get across.
“Ross Gay is not blind to the horrors and injustices of the world, but he has the kind of optimism and faith in humanity most of us can only dream of having.” – Julie Ehlers
“Gay is an accomplished poet whose prose is dense and digressionary. That’s not to say that it’s bad, or even unpleasant to read; it may, however, not be to the tastes of someone who, unlike myself, does not delight in copious quantities of clauses and parentheticals breaking up thoughts that, even uninterrupted, don’t always lead to a particularly noteworthy conclusion.” – Sean Gibson