A Summer Reading List for an Adolescent Bookworm 📚
...and a book list for a busy grown-up
A few weeks before school ended, one of my students, a seventeen-year-old junior, asked me to create for her a summer reading list. Not only was I honored and proud she’d asked, but I rubbed my hands together in maniacal glee like a clichéd villain, eager to get started on this project.
But it’s been hard. Not to think of any books for her! —but to narrow the list down to reasonable for a final summer of high school. She’s an avid but slow-ish reader, yet she has more grit than any student I’ve ever had and loves to spend hours with her nose in a page-turner. (Folks on Twitter and Notes have shared their ideas, and I agree with many of them.)
It’s been a bit of both art and science to concoct an ideal summer reading list for her, to walk that fine line between a leisurely read without falling into saccharine territory; a book that’d keep her engrossed on a chaise lounge by the pool but wouldn’t require a highlighter or dictionary to accompany it. Plus, she’s a devout reader who faithfully reads all I assign for classes, so I know she’s already read good stuff.
Here’s the list I’m giving her — I figured one of my readers or three here might enjoy perusing it. And at the end, I’m sharing for Commonplace subscribers my own summer reading list! I’d love to hear what’s on yours.
A Summer Reading List for a Rising High School Senior
There are a dozen books here; four non-fiction and eight fiction. I recommend choosing at least one non-fiction for every three works of fiction, simply for variety.
Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen
She’s already read Pride and Prejudice (which I believe is required reading for us all) because I assigned it in class. Sense and Sensibility sits just as high up there, however, as Austen perfectly taps into the heart and soul of what it means to want to be loved.
And Then There Were None, by Agatha Christie
The quintessential page-turner, And Then There Were None lays the foundation for many a murder mystery with an ensemble cast stuck in an enclosed space. Eerie but not outright terrifying, Dame Christie is the best at the genre she helped create.
The Awakening of Miss Prim, by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera
A modern fairy tale set in an idyllic European village that no sane person would want to leave, this gem explores philosophy, education, theology, and literature gift-wrapped in quaint village life replete with a bevy of older women determined to help the protagonist find love.
Till We Have Faces, by C.S. Lewis
Lewis retells the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche told from the viewpoint of Psyche’s sister, using it as a framework to explore envy, guilt, grief, beauty, and repentance. As a myth retold, it’s possibly Lewis’ most human work of fiction.
Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson
Frequently recommended on many a book list for boys, this classic book is just as delightful for girls, I say. Young Jim Hawkins holds the map to Treasure Island, and in his quest to find it he engages with pirates, beasts, and other such villains. A perfect childhood read, no matter how old you are.
Swallows and Amazons, by Arthur Ransome
Children’s stories — the good ones, anyway — should still be enjoyed by the older among us, both adults and adolescents alike. Four kids are on summer break in the idyllic Lake District in England, and they meet another duo of kids also in search of adventure. Together, they camp out on a rugged island, and shenanigans ensue: burglars, fireworks, sailing, and other delightful childhood summer adventures.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith
In this beloved coming-of-age novel, Francie grows up in the Brooklyn slums at the turn of the twentieth century. Their unconventional family navigates poverty as Smith hauntingly captures both a specific era with unique challenges and the universal condition of being a flawed human.
I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith
Seventeen-year-old Cassandra lives in a crumbling castle (for real) with her poverty-stricken family: her father who has writer's block, her eccentric artist stepmother, and her older sister and younger brother. Then …two handsome American boys move next door. The audiobook is especially good.
The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown
The true story of a team of blue-collar boys from the Pacific Northwest who defy the odds against the blue-blood Ivy Leaguers who basically invented the sport of rowing. This is such a fantastic tale of grit, hard work, courage, and friendship.
Live No Lies, by John Mark Comer
Comer astutely makes the case that in our post-modern world, we are at war with the lies we believe — even if we don’t believe that we believe them. We let them sabotage our peace, play with our mental health, and wreak havoc on our spiritual lives. This easy-to-read book unpacks three popular myths, how we accidentally let them rule our lives, and how to overcome them.
Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis
If there is ever one book that unpacks “plain” orthodox Christianity for the post-Enlightenment, now firmly ensconced in the post-modern worldview of the 21st century, it’s this one. Read it once and know you’ll need to read it again, and again, and again until you’re an old lady or gent. (Okay, this one might be the reason to bring a highlighter to the pool.)
A Severe Mercy, by Sheldon Vanauken
I read this love story my senior year in high school and cried so much the pages blurred. It’s the true story of a couple’s relationship as it navigates faith (or lack thereof), untimely death, and friendship with C.S. Lewis. So, so good.
My Own Reading List
Summertime reading is my favorite, and I like to strike a balance between reads that are both challenging and leisurely. I’m not a big fan of the typical beach read, and with so much good stuff I’ll never have enough lifetimes to read, I typically steer clear of the latest releases.