Summer Reading that Makes the A-List

For students grades 7-12, here are our summer reading list suggestions, compiled by extraordinary A-List tutor and Harvard grad Kim Onah.

  • 7th Grade 
    • Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi 
      • This young reader’s fantasy book chronicles a young girl’s struggle to safely bring back magic to the kingdom of Orïsha. Our heroine, Zélie, must go against the powerful and oppressive monarchy to free her people and restore balance in the land. It’s a fantastical read that draws inspiration from Western African mythology as well as Yoruba culture and language. It’s the first book in a planned trilogy–the second book, which came out in December, is called Children of Virtue and Vengeance. 
    • The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank 
      • Also known as The Diary of Anne Frank, this book is a collection of writings from thirteen-year-old Anne Frank’s diary while she was hiding for two years with her family during Nazi Occupation of the Netherlands. Her story is a powerful reminder of the atrocities faced in war, and the resilience of the human spirit. The book has been published in over 60 different languages, and is read and discussed by students all over the world.  
    • Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros 
      • In this book, seventh-grader Efrén must carry the weight of taking care of his twin siblings after their mother is deported to Mexico. The book explores a hard-working family that struggles to make ends meet when their world is turned upside down and their family is torn apart. It’s a compelling story that portrays the very real life experiences of an immigrant family. It will absolutely spark fascinating discussion about immigration policy. 
    • When The Emperor Was Divine by Julie Otsuka 
      • This historical fiction follows a Japanese-American family that was sent to an internment camp in the Utah desert during World War II. Written from the perspective of each of the four family members, the book details their eviction from California and their time in the camp. The author, Otsuka, drew inspiration from her mother’s family’s wartime experiences. So this book very much offers a sober meditation on what it means to be loyal, brave, and human. 
    • Animal Farm by George Orwell 
      • Animal Farm is an exemplary political satire that reflects events leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and onto the Stalinist Era of the Soviet Union. The book follows a group of farm animals who rise up and rebel against their human farmer only to end up under the dictatorship of a pig. The story uses the literary device of allegory to deliver a strong and powerful message on the dangers of totalitarianism.You can see a similar message in Orwell’s other books, like 1984.  
  • 8th Grade
    • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas 
      • Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter is forced to reckon with the double life she leads when she witnesses the fatal shooting of her best friend Kahlil at the hands of a police officer. Everything she knows is tested and she must decide what is worth fighting for. This is a book about resilience and authenticity, both things we need to pass onto today’s youth. It’s on this list because it’s a heartbreakingly honest account of what’s happening in America right today. 
    • The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-Time by Mark Haddon 
      • Christopher John Francis Boone, the book’s narrator, knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. Incredibly gifted, Christopher sets out to solve a murder in the style of his favourite detective Sherlock Holmes. This mystery novel by Mark Haddon chronicles the experience of being an outsider and seeing the world in a surprising and revealing way. It’s an exciting read that’s profound in its examination of daily routines, customs, habits, and language. 
    • Of Mice & Men by John Steinbeck 
      • This is the story of two outsiders searching for their place in an unforgiving world. In this heartfelt novel, Steinbeck gives voice to America’s most lonely and dispossessed. His two main characters, George and Lennie move from place to place in California in search of new job opportunities during the Great Depression. It deals with themes of abuse and the evil of oppression, while also promoting social change and punishing injustice. 
    • The House On Mango Street by Sandra Cisnero 
      • The House On Mango Street is a series of vignettes that follows Esperanza Cordero, a 12-year-old Chicana girl growing up in the Hispanic quarter of Chicago, through one year of her life. Inspired by author Sandra Cisnero’s own life experiences, the book draws from elements of Mexican-American culture as well as themes of social class, race, sexuality, identity, and gender. It’s a modern classic that remains today an influential coming-of-age novel and a staple for many young adults. 
    • The Help by Kathryn Stockett 
      • In crystal clear voices, Kathryn Stockett has created three extraordinary women with the determination to start a movement that will forever change a town and the way all the women view one another. This moving novel is a timeless and universal story filled with humor, hope, poignancy and wisdom. It teaches us what lines we abide by and what lines we ought to cross in life.  
  • 9th Grade
    • I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez
      • Perfect Mexican daughters never abandon their family. But Julia is not your perfect Mexican daughter. This poignant but laugh-out-loud funny contemporary young adult fiction novel is a story about losing a sister and finding yourself amid the pressures and expectations of growing up in a Mexican-American home. This has made its way onto our list because of its amazing exploration of family, grief, and culture. 
    • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison 
      • Toni Morrison’s first novel, The Bluest Eye is a gorgeous story that addresses the harsh consequences of racism in the United States. It tells the story of a young African-American girl named Pecola who grows up during the years following the Great Depression and whose life changes in painful, devastating ways. With this book, Toni Morrison sought to speak on behalf of those who long to escape the oppression that results from the color of their skin. It is one of Morrison’s most powerful, unforgettable novels, and a significant work of American fiction. 
    • The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd 
      • Set in South Carolina in 1964, The Secret Life of Bees is a coming-of-age story about loss and betrayal. It follows 14-year-old Lily Melissa Owens, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed. She lives in a house with her abusive father and her no-nonsense maid Rosaleen, who becomes a surrogate mother for Lily. It’s a beautiful story about divine female power that mothers and daughters will share with one another for many years to come. 
    • Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck 
      • Set during the Great Depression, the novel chronicles the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s and tells the story of the Joads, a farm family from Oklahoma. The Joads have been driven from their homestead and forced to travel west to California. This epic is a portrait of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless, and follows one family’s search for justice. The book captures so well the horrors of the Great Depression and examines the nature of justice and equality in America. 
    • Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe 
      • Uncle Tom’s Cabin is an anti-slavery novel that is said to have helped lay the groundwork for the Civil War. Stowe’s powerful work delivers a message about the evils of slavery and brings readers face-to-face with the suffering of man. It is one of the most important works in American culture as it is deeply moving and still incredibly relevant to us today. 
  • 10th Grade
    • To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee 
      • To Kill A Mockingbird, a classic of modern American literature, is set in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama. The story, told by the six-year-old Jean Louise Finch, is one that takes readers to the roots of human behavior — to innocence and experience, kindness and cruelty, love and hatred, humor and pathos. It deals with themes of racial injustice, class disparity, gender roles, and loss of innocence. Harper Lee always considered her book to be a simple love story. Today it is regarded as a masterpiece of American literature. 
    • The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin 
      • Published in 1963, The Fire Next Time is a non-fiction book by James Baldwin that gave passionate voice and momentum to the emerging civil rights movement. It’s a powerful yet disturbing examination of the consequences of racial injustice and a beautiful recalling of Baldwin’s early life. It’s broken down into two essays: “My Dungeon Shook — Letter to my Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Emancipation” and “Down at the Cross — Letter from a Region of My Mind.” Baldwin’s brilliant story stands as a classic of American literature. 
    • The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan 
      • Set in 1949, The Joy Luck Club is the story of four Chinese women, recent immigrants to San Francisco, who meet weekly to play a Chinese game of Mahjong and tell stories of what they left behind in China. United in loss and hope for their daughters’ bright futures, the women call themselves the Joy Luck Club. Amy Tan brings wit and sensitivity to this read as she examines the painful yet tender and always deep connection between mothers and daughters. Tan is an incredible storyteller who manages to create a universally relatable story filled with heart, complexity, and depth. 
    • Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf 
      • Heralded as Virginia Woolf’s greatest novel, Mrs. Dalloway is the vivid portrait of a single day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway. It follows Clarissa’s innermost thoughts as she prepares for a party she will host that evening. She is forced to reexamine the choices she’s made that brought her to the present moment. This novel is lauded as one of the most moving, revolutionary artworks of the twentieth century because of its examination of the enormous within everyday life. 
    • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain 
      • In this great American novel, a nineteenth-century boy from a Mississippi River town recounts his adventures traveling down the river with a runaway slave. It explores themes of race, identity, and morality through inspired characterization and dialogue and imaginative re-creation of boyhood adventures. It’s a classic of American realism for Twain’s depiction of the pre-Civil War South.  
  • 11th Grade
    • Drown by Junot Díaz 
      • Junot Díaz’s semi-autobiographical remarkable debut, this is a collection of short stories that move from the barrios of the Dominican Republic to the struggling urban communities of New Jersey. It addresses the trials and tribulations of Dominican immigrants as they attempt to locate some semblance of the American Dream after immigrating to America. The stories are set in 1980s America and are unflinching and strong. Diaz builds a world in which fathers are absent, mothers fight with grim determination for their families, and the next generation sadly inherits the devastating lives circumscribed by poverty and uncertainty. 
    • The Color Purple by Alice Walker 
      • A 1982 novel by Alice Walker, this story takes place in rural George and follows the lives of African-American women in the South in the 1930s, addressing the silence around domestic and sexual abuse as a product of a low position in American social culture. This powerful and moving novel tells the story of Celie and Nettie, sisters separated as girls, who sustain their loyalty to and hope in each other across time, distance, and silence. Through a series of letters spanning twenty years, first from Celie to God, then from Celie and Nettie to each other, the novel draws readers into the rich portrayal of four black women and their experiences. Alice Walker’s resilient and brave epic carries readers on a spirit-affirming journey towards redemption and love. 
    • Beloved by Toni Morrison 
      • Set after the American Civil War, Beloved is a captivating and fresh portrayal of a woman haunted by the past. The book is inspired by the life of Margaret Garner, an African American woman who escaped slavery in Kentucky in 1856 by crossing the Ohio River to Ohio, a free state. The book follows Sethe who, in freedom, is still held captive by memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many horrifying things happened. Morrison’s unforgettable novel combines the power of legend with the impenetrable truth of history. 
    • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey 
      • Set in an Oregon psychiatric hospital, this narrative serves as a study of institutional processes and the human mind, as well as an honest portrayal of the boundaries between sanity and madness. Tyrannical Nurse Ratched rules her ward with a strict and unbending routine. The patients remain cowed by mind-numbing medication and the threat of electric shock therapy. However, Nurse Ratched’s regime is disrupted by the arrival of the devilish and fun-loving McMurphy, who resolves to resist her routine on behalf of his fellow inmates. Ken Kesey’s novel is a direct product of Kesey’s time working the graveyard shift as an orderly at a mental health facility in Menlo Park, California. He exposes those in positions of authority who control the individuals they’re meant to serve through subtle, coercive, and cruel methods. 
    • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche 
      • The 2013 novel by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche tells the story of a young NIgerian woman, Ifemelu, who immigrates to the United States to attend university. It traces Ifemelu’s life in both countries, threaded with her love story with high school classmate Obinze. We see Ifemelu grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Americanah examines blackness in America, Nigeria, and England, but it also manages to dissect the universal human experience. 
  • 12th Grade 
    • The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coates 
      • Ta-Nehisi Coates writes about his childhood, especially his father, in the memoir The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood. It’s an exceptional story about the reality that tests us, the myths that sustain us, and the love that saves us. Coates offers readers a small and beautiful epic about boys trying to become men in black America and beyond. 
    • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz 
      • This novel, written by Dominican-American author Junot Díaz, is set in New Jersey where Díaz was raised and deals with the Dominican Republic experience under dictator Rafael Trujillo. The story follows Oscar Wao, a sweet, lovesick Dominican ghetto nerd. He lives in Jersey with his old-world mother and rebellious sister, and dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R Tolkien and, more importantly, finding love. Díaz immerses us in the tumultuous life of Oscar and the history of the family at large, rendering with genuine warmth, humor, and insight the Dominican-American experience. 
    • Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
      • Milkman Dead was born shortly after a neighborhood eccentric hurled himself off a rooftop in a vain attempt at flight. For the rest of his life, Milkman Dead will also be trying to fly. With this beautifully imagined novel, Morrison transforms the coming-of-age story. She introduces an entire cast of strivers and dreamers, liars and assassins, as we follow Milkman from his rustbelt city to the place of his family’s origins and a fully realized black world. 
    • The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera 
      • This 1984 novel tells the story of a young woman in love with a man torn between his love for her and his incorrigible womanizing and one of his mistresses and her humbly faithful lover. It explores the artistic and intellectual life of Czech society from the Prague Spring of 1968 to the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union and its aftermath. It is a brilliant achievement of one of the world’s truly great writers. 
    • Go Tell It On The Mountain by James Baldwin 
      • Baldwin’s 1953 semi-autobiographical novel tells the story of John Grimes, an intelligent teenager in 1930s Harlem, and his relationship to his family and his church. With lyrical precision, psychological directness, and resonating symbolic power and rage, Baldwin chronicles John’s discovery of the terms of his identity through the spiritual, sexual, and moral struggle of self-invention. This classic established a profound and permanent new voice in American letters. 

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