25 Books to Read Before You Graduate High School

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Dr. Adrian Clifton, our lead speech teacher, shares that Their Eyes Were Watching God “…changed my life in high school. It was full of representation and validation.”

What books are must reads for the high school students in your classroom or community?

One of our partner schools in Brazil recently reached out with a timeless and challenging question: What books should you read before you graduate high school? 

Our academic team responded with gusto. Like Dr. Clifton, as our teachers shared their nominations for this list, many remembered what each of these titles meant for them in their formative years. 

Ericca Thornhill, our division chair for sciences says, “Ender’s Game is a thought-provoking, coming-of-age story that is an unexpected take on the alien invasion trope. Ender is an intelligently gifted kid who is forced to train to be a battle commander by a culture that bred him to be such a person. While the story is compelling for anyone who loves science fiction, it also offers insight into human philosophy through its exploration of what it means for a culture to view children as resources, and where power is more important than humanity, especially when not everyone is a human.”

Thornhill continues with her next recommendation of The Martian: “A science fiction story fact-checked by talented NASA engineers and scientists. Can you catch the one piece of “science” that isn’t accurate, but had to stay? This book is an awesome survival story for everyone who wants to be an astronaut someday, while also encouraging us that no problem is too big to face with integrity, courage, and creativity.”

Brian Stuhlman, our middle school coordinator, shares, “The Alchemist is an accessible re-telling of a tale as old as time. Its relatable characterizations tumble and collide across an exotic landscape, blurring time and space to land at essential messages for the human spirit…messages we all know, but also that we all must come face to face with every now and then.”

Recognizing that any such list is incomplete, the team is excited to share the 25 titles you can find below. These book suggestions span cultures, geography, and generations. They are story-rich and include fiction, non-fiction, science fiction, and verse. 

Tuesdays with Morrie Mitch Albom
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Maya Angelou
Nothing but the Truth  Avi
Ender’s GameOrson Scott Card
The Alchemist  Paulo Coehlo
The Great Gatsby  F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Diary of Anne FrankAnne Frank
In the Shadow of Man  Jane Goodall
Beyond the Dead ForestSteve Groll
SiddharthaHermman Hesse
Their Eyes Were Watching God Zora Neale Hurston 
The Ride of A Lifetime Robert Iger
A Separate Peace John Knowles
To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee
100 Years of Solitude Gabriel García Márquez
1984 George Orwell
Persepolis Marjane Satrapi
Orbiting Jupiter Gary Schmidt 
Hidden Figures Margot Lee Shetterly
Of Mice and Men John Steinbeck 
Dear Martin Nic Stone
Other Words for HomeJasmine Warga
The Martian Andy Weir
The Penguin Dictionary of Curious and Interesting NumbersDavid Wells
We Are Displaced  Malala Yousafzai

Brian Stuhlman, Dr. Kathryn Fishman-Weaver, and Stephanie Walter have taught and recommended three of these titles to teacher education students in the College of Education and Human Development: Other Words for Home (a gorgeous novel in verse about a middle grade Syrian refugee navigating a new life in the U.S., including our public schools), Dear Martin (a powerful read written as a first-personal journal from a high school youth grappling with racism, violence, injustice, and teachings of Martin Luther King), and We are Displaced (Malala Yousafszai’s nonfiction account of the stories refugees girls and young women have gifted her during her humanitarian work addressing the global refugee crisis). 

Fishman-Weaver says that “these books teach that young people can and do make a difference, that the world is small and deeply connected, and that a better way is possible.”

Jill Clingan, a lead teacher in our co-teach language arts program, discovered Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings as a young adult and deeply connected with the power of finding one’s voice through literature and story. When her daughter read this book in high school during a time of racial unrest, they were moved and inspired by the truth that knowing others’ stories can foster empathy and impact change.

Representation, validation, humanity, courage, creativity, the human spirit, connection, empathy, change: These words, interspersed throughout the academic team’s book recommendations, represent the power of story. Stories come alive off the page to change us, connect us, and teach us to honor the stories we and others are living. 

We hope you find some beloved texts on this list, too—and perhaps your next favorite read. 

You can find this and other recommended reading lists in our Learning Library. Check out Shelf 14.

Thank you to Dr. Ta Boonseng, Dr. Adrian Clifton, Jill Clingan, Dr. Sherry Denney, Dr. Kathryn Fishman-Weaver, Angie Hammons, Lou Jobst, Kimberly Kester, Jeff Kopolow, Brennan Ransdell, Karen Scales, Greg Soden, Brian Stuhlman, Nina Sprouse, Ericca Thornhill, and Stephanie Walter for contributing to this list!