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14 best books to read this school year 2021 - TODAY

It's time to revisit some old favorites.
Illustration of five books from Read with Jenna
TODAY Illustration / Amazon

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The books we read in school are the stories we grow up with. Through their themes of friendship, family, justice, adventure and more, we learn about the world all while never leaving the classroom. Each book that has made it into a school curriculum has been deemed a must-read for a reason, so whether you enjoyed them as a teen or found value in them as an adult, these stories can stay with you well beyond you close the book.

The Read With Jenna Goodreads community shared some of their favorite books read in school, and we compiled a list of 14 you might want to pick up yourself. With back-to-school just around the corner, what could be better than taking a trip down memory lane and picking up a nostalgic school read?

Read on to shop books spanning genres from fantasy and mystery to historical fiction.

"The Bluest Eye," by Toni Morrison

"The Bluest Eye" is Jenna Bush Hager's favorite book that she read in school, and the December 2020 Read With Jenna book club pick. The book is about Pecola Breedlove, an 11-year-old Black girl who prays for her eyes to turn blue so that she will be beautiful. Through this book, Morrison offers an examination of beauty, race, class and gender.

"Of Mice and Men," by John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck is known for his work portraying the laboring class during the Great Depression, and "Of Mice and Men" is no exception. This novel is about an unlikely pair of men, George, who is small, quick-witted and "dark of face," and Lennie, a huge man with the mind of a young child. The two men hustle in California vegetable fields, and while their dreams almost seem within sight, misunderstanding, jealousy and ruthlessness block their way.

"To Kill a Mockingbird," by Harper Lee

"To Kill a Mockingbird" is one of the most popular stories of all time. This emotional story takes place in the South, plagued with racism, and is told through the perspective of a young girl as her father, a local lawyer, risks everything to defend a Black man who was unjustly accused of a crime.

"1984," by George Orwell

This classic novel depicts a dark utopia set in the year 1984, though the book was written in 1949. The story follows Winston Smith, who works for the Ministry of Truth rewriting history for the oppressive Party. Winston begins to think for himself, but Big Brother is always watching people's thoughts and actions to make sure they conform.

"The Catcher in the Rye," by J. D. Salinger

Told from the perspective of Holden Caulfield, a 16-year-old native New Yorker, "The Catcher in the Rye" is known as a funny and meaningful novel. The story focuses on Holden's three-day impromptu trip to New York City after he leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania.

"Lord of the Flies," by William Golding

Published in 1954, this book is about a group of schoolboys who are stranded on a deserted island after a plane crash. No adults and no supervision means freedom and celebration, however order soon collapses and the excitement seeps away, only to be replaced by terror and hopes of being rescued.

"The Scarlet Letter," by Nathaniel Hawthorne

"The Scarlet Letter" is a work of historical fiction published in 1850 but set in Puritan Massachusetts Bay colony during the years 1642 and 1649. The story is about Hester Prynne, a woman who becomes pregnant with a daughter as a result of an affair. The book explores themes of religion, sin, guilt and more as Hester struggles to create a new life.

"Catch-22," by Joseph Heller

Known as one of the funniest books in American literature, "Catch-22" is set in Italy during World War II and follows Yossarian, a pilot who is frustrated not only with the thousands of people trying to kill him but also his own army. What stands in Yossarian's way is a lose-lose situation thanks to the Catch-22, a bureaucratic rule saying that a man is considered insane if he willingly continues to fly dangerous combat missions, but if he requests to be removed from duty, he is proven sane and therefore ineligible to be relieved.

"The Outsiders," by S. E. Hinton

Although life may be challenging, Ponyboy, a teenage "greaser," thinks he has it all figured out and knows he can count on his brothers and friends for anything. Even when it comes to the Socs, a gang of rich kids who like to beat up "greasers," Ponyboy knows exactly what to expect. That is, until someone takes things too far. Fifty years after it was first published, "The Outsiders" still resonates with teens today and has continued to be heavily influential on the YA genre.

"The Giver," by Lois Lowry

This Newbery Medal–winning classic follows the story of Jonas, a 12-year-old boy who lives in a colorless utopia of conformity and contentment. When Jonas is given the life assignment of the Receiver of Memory, he learns about the dark secrets behind his fragile community. Although "The Giver" is often the only book of Lowry's read in school, it is followed by three companion novels.

"The Canterbury Tales," by Geoffrey Chaucer

Written in the 1300s, "The Canterbury Tales" paints a vivid picture of what medieval life was like for people ranging from a noble knight and squire to a nun. The story follows a group of pilgrims traveling to Canterbury Cathedral who agree to entertain each other with stories when stopped at an inn. This book, with its great characters, fun dialogue and themes spanning love and humanity, helped establish English as the language of British literature. Even after 700 years, people are still entertained by this novel.

"And Then There Were None," by Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie is the Queen of mystery, and this crime novel will keep you on the edge of your seat. "And Then There Were None" is about 10 people who are invited to an isolated mansion on Indian Island by a host who fails to appear. On this island, the guests are forced to reckon with their wicked pasts and, one by one, they die.

"Tuck Everlasting," by Natalie Babbitt

If you could live forever, would you? This is the question a young girl must grapple with after stumbling upon a spring that grants eternal life. After uncovering this secret, Winnie Foster hears from members of the Tuck family, who have drunk from the spring about what it is like watching life pass by while never growing older. Will Winnie keep this secret, and will she join the Tucks on this everlasting journey?

"The Once and Future King," by T. H. White

A story we all know and love, "The Once and Future King" is about Arthur, King of the Britons. This magical retelling is a fantasy classic filled with adventure, romance, wizardry and war. Let yourself feel transported to Camelot as you read about the legendary Excalibur, chivalrous knights, Merlin and more.

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