Sometimes you pick up a title because of the pleasing-to-the-eye cover, or the summary on the inside of the flap sounds interesting, but sometimes you have to read a book for class. These are some classic fiction titles, some I have read in my free time and others that started out as class assignments that I have read, but by the end, I completely fell in love with it.
I think the main theme that I have enjoyed about most of these classic stories is the relationships between these characters; there is love and caring between friends and siblings, found families, and some romantic stories.
While these stories are not strictly YA, I believe that teens would enjoy these reads. Hopefully some of these stories you will want to check out and potentially connect to the fantastic characters, themes, and plots like I have. Or maybe when you see some of these books listed on your English reading list you are willing to give it a try.
Emma by Jane Austen
Emma Woodhouse is not a typical heroine of her time; she plans on never marrying and running her father’s large estate when he’s gone. Emma’s favorite activity is to play match maker with the people around her. When she befriends a girl of lesser means, Harriet, Emma believes that she can match her to a higher status. Emma is unable to see outside of herself, which leads to great misunderstandings, as she tries to influence those around her. Emma causes great mischief, and also potentially great heartbreak.
This book is a great start to reading Jane Austen with the complex character relationships and forehead- slapping misunderstandings. If you enjoyed this book, the BBC 2009 miniseries of the same name is a fantastic version of the story. Also, the movie Clueless is a modernized version of Emma. I read this book for fun after I saw the fabulousness of the miniseries.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Mary, a neglected, but spoiled young girl, becomes an orphan when her parents die in India of cholera. She is sent to the moors in England to her uncle that she has never met, only for him to not be at his large estate. Mary hears of a secret garden that was locked up and hidden after her uncle’s wife passed. Determined to find it she has help from some of the staff and new friend, Dicken. While she hunts for the garden during the day, at night she hears strange crying that no one seems to address. Mary must learn to be a better version of herself as she learns she is not alone and that she is loved.
This book is for younger teen readers; I first read this book when I was in 7th grade for English class and I felt so connected to the characters and the magic of the garden. I read it again as an adult and loved it even more. I believe any age can read and enjoy this story. I would also recommend watching the 1990’s movie of the same name. I would be lying if I said it didn’t make me tear up.
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
The original, and many suggest, the first YA title. Ponyboy is a Greaser and an orphan that is raised by his older brothers Darry and Sodapop. When he is jumped by the richer and more privileged Socs (socials), Ponyboy knows that he must stay out of trouble. One night after a fight with his brothers, Ponyboy and Johnny, a fellow Greaser and friend, find themselves in a situation with deadly consequences.
This is my favorite book that I have ever read in class. I was a freshman when I had to read The Outsiders; I fell in love by the first sentence “When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home.” To this day, I have Robert Frost’s poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” memorized. I love this story about brotherhood. Watch The Outsiders if you can; a classic 80’s movie that stays true to the original work.
This title is available on Overdrive.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Four sisters live together with their mother while their father is off fighting in the Civil War. Meg, the oldest, is kindhearted, but vain at times; she would like to live more like their family did before the war, but they are falling onto hard times. Jo, tomboyish and a creative writer, finds ways to gather her sisters together (even if its just to preform one of her plays). Beth, sweet and quiet, tries to help those less fortunate than the her. And youngest, Amy, is spoiled and stuck up but has moments of compassion when needed. When Meg and Jo meet their new neighbor, a boy named Laurie, their little family grows.
This story reads like little vignettes of lessons and character growth. Readers get to watch these little women grow and learn about life. I had a condensed children’s version of this book when I was young. I loved it because it was illustrated, and I finally read about a character named Amy. (Unpopular opinion but I love Amy, she is my favorite character). I then read the unabridged story for fun one summer while in high school.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Jean Louise Finch, known as Scout, lives in Maycomb, Alabama during the Great Depression. She lives with her widowed father, the local defense lawyer. This story is told in two sections: Scout’s youth is highlighted during the summer with adventures with her brother and friend, Dill, questioning a recluse neighbor. The second story is Atticus, Scout’s father, who defends a man accused of rape. Atticus and his children must confront racism head on.
This is a story about youth, innocence, and finding justice. This story meant a lot to me when I read it Sophomore year for English class. I did not know what this story is about, but I understood after reading it why it remains many readers’ favorite classic. The movie was also great.
Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
A true adventure story; d’Artagnan leaves his old life behind when he goes to Paris to become a Musketeer. His adventure gets twisted right away when he is attacked by a frying pan and his important letter is stolen. D’Artagnan decides to seek revenge against his attackers. When he reaches Paris, he meets three other compatriots: Athos, Porthos, and Aramis. This book is filled with duels, spies, and honor.
I read this my Junior year of high school. It was seriously a joy to read; I wanted to continue reading on because the adventure was contagious, and I cared about the characters. This novel did not feel like it was written over a century ago. Easy to read with fantastic dialogue.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Told as a frame story, Victor Frankenstein becomes curious to create life from cadaver parts and lightening. When he creates a terrifyingly ugly creature, Victor abandons his work and the creature. Is the creature evil and only capable of destruction? Or is Victor the true monster? This is a tale about nature versus nurture.
I did not read this book until I was in college; I am a strong believer that the English class, teacher, and discussion can influence whether you enjoyed reading the title or not. I enjoyed the literary experience of reading Frankenstein because of the way it was taught to me.