Fiction for 8th, 9th, and 10th graders
Divergent by Veronica Roth (Fiction)
The prose and plotting are a bit clunky, and it’s yet another YA dystopian novel-turned-movie, but it’s fun and moves along at a brisk pace.
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (Fiction)
Although it’s popular with 8th and 9th graders, this novel is actually a sophisticated imagining of Romantic philosophy, viewed through a lens that creates a world eerily similar to our, but distorted just enough to render it (and our own world) wonderfully strange.
The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer (Fiction)
This page-turner imagines a dystopian world in which cloning is common and California is a narco-republic ruled by an aging patriarch. This novel creates an exciting imaginary world, but manages to explore ethical questions that are pressing ones for our own time and place.
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger (Fiction)
A beautiful, heartbreaking novel about outlaws, family, and miracles.
The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien (Fiction)
The first of Tolkien’s extraordinary trilogy. These books surpass even the excellent movies created by Peter Jackson.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (Fiction)
This is a great story whose themes and concerns travel beyond its original time and setting, exploring issues of subjectivity and cognition that seem plucked from a neuroscientist’s notebook.
True Grit by Charles Portis (Fiction)
A great Western tale with a teenage narrator who would be annoying in real-life but is impossibly charming in this novel. The movie version by the Coen brothers offers a rare example of the movie being just as good as the book.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (Fiction)
One of the most important novels ever written, Frankenstein has become the first modern myth—a story that speaks to different generations and different centuries. If you have only encountered the story of Frankenstein in movies or cartoons, this book will be a revelation—the so-called “monster” speaks French and is a vegetarian. Huh? Exactly.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick (Fiction)
The book that inspired the movie Blade Runner and a sci-fi tale that still has meaning and relevance because it explores what it means to be a human being. And it has killer robots, so there’s that. Some mature themes and issues, so be forewarned.
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (Fiction)
Set in World War Two, this novel of teenage spies is a complex, layered, and challenging tale that is worth the difficulty of the first few chapters.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (Fiction)
I can only envy those who have not read this book because they still have before them one of the most pleasurable intellectual experiences one can find. I have read this book more than a dozen times; I hope to read it a dozen more times before my final pages are written.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (Fiction)
Jane Eyre is one of the most compelling characters in all of literature—short, sharp, plain, and fierce—she is more like a superhero than a 19th century heroine.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (Fiction)
Yes, almost everyone in the world has read this book, and the second and third installments are not as strong. But Collins is a great storyteller, and if you read the first book as an allegory of the college admissions process, the book becomes even more rewarding.
Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut (Fiction)
A fast-paced tale that examines religion, philosophy, and science as they converge in Vonnegut’s fertile imagination. You may recognize J. Robert Oppenheimer in the distorted mirror this novel holds up 1960s America for our perusal.
1984 by George Orwell (Fiction)
Although the date has passed, this dystopian novel is just as timely as when it was first published. It’s hard to watch CNN or listen to a press conference without calling to mind this far-sighted novel.
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (Fiction)
This book was written in 1948, so there are no explosions or teen warriors living in dystopian futurescapes. And some boys think it’s a bit boring. But I’m a guy, and I loved it—and so did J.K.Rowling, who wrote, “This book has one of the most charismatic narrators I’ve ever met.”
Dracula by Bram Stoker (Fiction)
Every vampire movie and TV show owes its origins to this book, and it is still an engaging, rewarding story, especially when viewed through the lens of post-colonial criticism. Why is Dracula from “the East”? And why was this story of a destructive, Eastern creature conceived at the exact cultural moment “the West” was beginning its long intervention in the Far and Near East?
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (Fiction)
A bit syrupy at times, this teen novel is still enjoyable because it creates characters that live and breathe in that twilight zone between childhood and adulthood. It manages to walk a fine line between funny and morbid, daring and demure—although some mature themes are present, so be forewarned.