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26 Contemporary Books That Should Be Taught In High School

"I was born with a reading list I will never finish." —Maud Casey

We recently asked members of the BuzzFeed Community to tell us what contemporary book should be taught in high school. Here are the brilliant results.

Loryn Brantz / BuzzFeed

1. The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak

Picador, Australia; Knopf, US

This book is cleverly narrated during Nazi Germany and quite poetically tells the story of a young girl named Liesel who steals banned books and houses a Jewish man with the help of her foster family.

—Submitted by Lisa Peterson, Facebook

2. Looking for Alaska by John Green

Dutton Juvenile

This is by the same author as The Fault in Our Stars, and deals with the universal topic of unrequited love when Miles "Pudge" Halter falls in love with the mysterious and elusive Alaska Young at his boarding school.

—Submitted by annakopsky

3. The Kite Runner by Khaled Housseini

Riverhead Books

This stunning story of friendship starts out in 1970s Kabul, when Amir and Hassan are two inseparable young boys who do everything together — until one horrific event changes everything. But, as one moves to America and the other stays in Afghanistan, they slowly realize how inextricably linked to each other they are.

—Submitted by Ellie Coggins, Facebook

4. I Am Malala by Christina Lamb and Malala Yousafzai

Hachette Book Group

In 2012, 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai was shot for speaking out against the Taliban and the lack of schooling opportunities for women in Pakistan. After her miraculous recovery, Malala became the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize nominee and continues to be one of the most inspiring people on the planet right now.

—Submitted by Amy Cookson, Facebook

5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Pocket Books

Charlie is a criminally shy high school freshman who prefers to observe his surroundings instead of living in them. That is, until he befriends the rebellious Patrick and falls in love with his sister, Sam — prompting him to see all that life has to offer. Also, you probably watched the movie and liked it, and the book is SO MUCH BETTER.

—Submitted by Scarlett Ogley, Facebook

6. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

McClelland & Stewart

In the dystopian society referred to as the Republic of Gilead, Offred is a woman who once had a husband and daughter but now lives in an oppressive world where she is no longer allowed to read or think. She, along with many other women, is forced to live in a commander’s home with his wife, where her only purpose is to try to bear his children. Welcome to your feminist awakening!

—Submitted by sarahgalea1994

7. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Penguin Books

Two weeks after Hannah Baker's suicide, Clay Jensen receives a mysterious package from his deceased school crush that includes an audio cassette listing 13 reasons why she chose to end her life. Clay quickly finds out that he is one of them, and slowly comes to learn about Hannah's pain in a unique and meaningful way.

—Submitted by mariav453d954a3

8. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

Charles Scribner's Sons

In this haunting memoir, Jeannette Walls recounts her and her siblings’ life with her eccentric parents, who preferred to move around and camp in mountainsides instead of conforming to a “normal” suburban life. As time wore on and the family faced new challenges, her parents became neglectful and led what became a highly dysfunctional unit, forcing Walls and her brothers and sisters to find the courage (and funds) to finally leave.

—Submitted by Alexia Greece, Facebook

9. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

William Morrow and Company

In 1953, two young boys in New Hampshire play baseball when one of them, Owen Meany, accidentally kills his best friend’s mother with a foul ball. This prompts him to believe that it was all in God’s plan and makes him obsessed with the idea of redemption. It'll create a fascinating discourse about faith AND make you really want to hug your mom when you come home.

—Submitted by lorynbrantz

10. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver


In the late '50s, an evangelical Baptist family, led by patriarch Nathan Price, leaves its home to go on a mission to the Belgian Congo. But what no one in the Price family expects is to have everything they’ve ever known tested and altered forever, as situations where the dad leads the whole family somewhere based on a loose idea never quite turn out OK.

—Submitted by emilyw81

11. Does My Head Look Big in This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah

Macmillan Publishers

When 16-year-old Amal one day decides to start wearing a hijab, she feels her life change in unexpected ways, dealing with prejudice from her peers and even occasional bullying. This YA novel follows an inspiring heroine who chooses to stick to her faith no matter what adversity she faces while also dealing with typical high school problems like having a crush or being judged for her personal choices.

—Submitted by whatwouldcourtneydo

12. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Christopher John Francis Boone, the 15-year-old autistic narrator of this widely lauded novel, is a brilliant and sensitive kid who feels a kinship with animals more than people. So when Wellington, a neighborhood dog, is mysteriously killed, Christopher is compelled to figure out who did it, documenting all his findings despite the discouragement from those around him (so the whole book is creatively written like a journal, with all the chapters being prime numbers.)

—Submitted by jamesbolton11

13. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

Simon & Schuster

In a troubling future world, people are eventually made pretty and perfect. Tally, too young to get altered, is part of The Uglies, and embarks on a life-changing journey when the government asks her to infiltrate and betray her friend’s rebel group, The Smoke. It'll definitely make you question beauty norms and pressures, especially the ones faced in high school.

—Submitted by lindseymarieb3

14. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

Riverhead Books

Oscar Wao is a lovable but tragically geeky Dominican teenager living in New Jersey who has possibly the worst luck ever with women. But he isn't the only one struggling — it is believed the fukú, a curse, has been haunting his mother and sister for decades, taking the reader to Santo Domingo where the trouble all began. You'll learn a lot about a different culture, you'll absorb the beauty of Junot Diaz's writing, but, most importantly, you won't feel alone when you have to deal with a crush not liking you back.

—Submitted by sarahthefax

15. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Alfred A. Knopf

Set in 1960s southeast Nigeria during the Biafran war, this novel follows five characters in a university: a 13-year-old houseboy, his professor boss, the professor's wife, the wife's twin sister, and the Englishman who is in love with her. It's beautiful and heartwarming and it's hard not to love.

—Submitted by Younger Oliver, Facebook

16. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Penguin Books

After calling the cops on a summer party in the eighth grade, Melinda becomes a social outcast, starting out her freshman year as an aloof and quiet student. As she starts opening up in her art classes, she slowly gains the courage to speak up about the unspeakable thing that happened to her at that very party: a rape by an upperclassman who still goes to her school. It's a stunning and highly important read for everyone.

—Submitted by Amy Yoelin, Facebook

17. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

McClelland and Stewart

In a world almost entirely destroyed by a plague, Snowman (formerly known as Jimmy) navigates through a lonely world while mourning the loss of Crake, his best friend, and Oryx, the woman they both came to love. Snowman, along with the Children of Crake, searches for the laboratory that caused humanity’s demise, all while very much living in the past. You'd be hard pressed to find a reading list book that's more interesting.

—Submitted by marissamariew

18. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

After the death of his father on 9/11, 9-year-old Oskar travels all around the city hoping to find a cryptic box that his dad left him the key for. Along the way, he meets incredible people who ultimately help him start to heal. If you loved Everything Is Illuminated (by the same author), you'll be just as entranced by the language and characters of this book.

—Submitted by Aubin Fefley, Facebook

19. Bossypants by Tina Fey

Little, Brown and Company

Tina Fey’s famed autobiography chronicles her life from her geeky childhood to her times at SNL to her first glimpses of motherhood, and would add some much-needed humor writing into the curriculum. Also, it's TINA FEY. Let's please read Tina Fey!

—Submitted by kaygro272

20. Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

Allen & Unwin

Charlie, a nerdy and semi-antisocial 13-year-old, wakes up one night to Jasper Jones, a town outcast, asking him to follow him into the woods. Jasper guides Charlie to something that will change his life forever and make him never see his town the same way again. This would be a perfectly creepy read to schedule around Halloween.

—Submitted by staceygrant

21. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins


Because you're already obsessed with the movies and the books are only going to be better.

—Submitted by maddancer5sos

22. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Ulverscroft Large Print Books

After a nasty confrontation with the town's biggest racists, a young white girl named Lily and her "stand-in" black mother Rosaleen decide to flee to Tiburon, South Carolina, where Lily believes she will find out more about her biological mother. Along the way, they meet three black beekeeping sisters who help them become an amazing and empowered family. Also, it's a book where all the main characters are women, which is a nice change from the solely male-driven books that get assigned sometimes.

—Submitted by devanb4c2e45f82

23. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

Ninetysomething Jacob Jankowski recounts his past life as a circus performer during The Great Depression. His mind wanders back to fellow performer and love interest Marlena, and Rosie, an elephant meant to save the circus, as all three of them work together and end up discovering more about themselves along the way. It gets pretty dark and even a bit sexy, and it would certainly spice up any reading list.

—Submitted by laurab98

24. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

St. Martin's Press

Eleanor dresses loudly, which doesn't make being the new girl in school any easier. Park is a quiet lover of comic books who doesn't fit into his athletic family. As the two start to talk on the bus, they develop a friendship that blossoms into something more when they realize how much they look forward to every day together. It's a delightful love story devoid of clichés, and you need it in your life.

—Submitted by Tatiana Hernandez, Facebook

25. She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb

Simon & Schuster

Dolores Price retells her life from the age of 4 to 40, dealing with her parents' tumultuous marriage and a plethora of other hardships that lead her to nearly commit suicide and end up in a mental institution. Despite her struggles, she always maintains a sharp sense of humor and eventually learns to love herself, making for some truly great writing.

—Submitted by Joyce Ellis, Facebook

26. And Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling


No explanation necessary.

—Submitted by bookmaniagirl

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