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10 Books We Hated In High School (And Some Less-Awful Alternatives)

Five pages of detailed landscapes and dead white men galore: we hated books in high school for various reasons. Here are some of the worst offenders-- and potential alternatives to make required reading a little less sucky.

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1. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner


“We read it so we could write about it on the AP Exam, but I never understood the meaning or significance. It was just a story about a really weird family—that’s all it was to me. And the style of writing was hard to follow, especially the changing perspectives. That was another thing; I just never understood why he did that.” “I just didn’t get it.” --Alexa R. ’17 Bourbonnais, Ill.

Suggestions: Every Day by David Levithan, Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García Márquez: multiple perspectives

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee: understandable, comprehend-able

2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë


“I was not a fan of the Brontë style, or the Gothic style. I don’t like when authors go on and on. And I couldn’t really connect to it. It wasn’t relatable to my life. I liked Great Gatsby and Catch-22 more because they were interesting and somewhat relatable.”

Sean L. ’17 Southern California

Suggestions: Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Catch-22 by Joseph Heller: more relatable to students

3. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad


“I hated it. It was summer reading, so of course no one wants that. And second, it was just too dense. I didn’t feel like I had the necessary tools to understand it.”

Meg S. ’19 Joliet, Ill.

Suggestions: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe: colonialism in Nigeria

Beloved by Toni Morrison: slavery in the US

And They Didn't Die by Lauretta Ngcobo: post-colonialism in South Africa

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas: modern race relations in the US

4. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

“I hated this book for the sole reason that the first chapter was dedicated to describing scenery. Dust bowls can only be so exciting without characters.”

David D. ’18 St. Louis, MO

Suggestions: Native Son by Richard Wright: 1940’s America (Chicago)

Animal Farm by George Orwell: 1940’s, pre-war

The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera: urban

5. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

“The book made me hate absurdism and non-traditional narratives. The only significance behind that book was the fact that it broke all preconceived notions of what a narrative was supposed to be. But high schoolers today have been exposed to a wide range of writing styles. Because the content of the play is meaningless without it being shocking, it is useless to read now.”

Dominique D. ’17, Sacramento, Cali.

Suggestions: Wise Children by Angela Carter: magical realism

The Stranger by Albert Camus: absurdist

6. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

*Spoiler Alert* “The most exciting part of this book was when the old lady caught on fire. I didn’t understand the main character: it was a different time period and I had a hard time figuring out what his motivations were. What we talked about in the class and what I thought the book was saying were so different.”

Raechel K. ’20 Fort Branch, IN

Suggestions: The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan: easy to read

7. For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

“It’s a really long book, and nothing happens. It only spanned three days, but it was unnecessarily long. The language was really weird, and the book itself did not convey any meaning.”Nicole L. ’20 Canton, OhioSuggestions: Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

“It’s a really long book, and nothing happens. It only spanned three days, but it was unnecessarily long. The language was really weird, and the book itself did not convey any meaning.”

Nicole L. ’20 Canton, Ohio

Suggestions: Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

8. The Taming of the Shrew by Shakespeare

“I always thought I was a good reader, until I got to high school. I just didn’t understand it. The language is impossible. I ended up Spark-Noting it.”

Molly L. ’19 Omaha, NE

Suggestions: A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen: play, gender roles

Holding Up the Universe by Jennifer Niven: accessible

9. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald


The Great Gatsby

“You have to be that type of reader that analyzes every word to enjoy it. It’s fun for a very particular audience. You had to read between the lines—for every line. Just say what you need to say. When you have to work that hard to interpret it, it’s not worth it. And the storyline is stupid.”

Sharon C.

Suggestions: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell: interesting, easy-to-read, relatable non-fiction

Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee

Beautiful Music for Ugly Children by Kirstin Cronn-Mills: controversial self-identity

10. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

“Not a single likeable character, not a single relatable point. They’re all old and cranky and live in Massachusetts. It’s not enough of a “woah” moment to justify reading a sad book about old people.”

Abby S. Farmington, Connecticut


Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston: an experienced woman tells her friend about her past

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon: (arranged) marriage

Little and Lion by Brandy Colbert: mental ability

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth: family tragedy/death

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