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Ranking Eastern’s Required Readings


Throughout high school, students are required to read a variety of novels for their various English classes. As a senior looking back on the books I was required to read, here is my ranking of all of the best to worst books I read throughout high school.

1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

  • This dystopian novel, the first of its popular trilogy, follows Katniss Everdeen as she is selected as one of the 24 tributes to enter the 74th annual Hunger Games. The Hunger Games is a contest in which two children (one boy and one girl) are taken from each of the twelve districts and entered into an arena to fight to the death, with only one victor emerging. Later in the series, Katniss finds that her actions in the Games have dire consequences as political unrest and a rebellion against the Capitol — who created the Games — ensue.
  • This novel was brought to the big screen in 2012, with Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen; it was then followed in 2013, 2014, and 2015 with the release of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and Mockingjay Part 1 and Part 2. In 2023, the prequel to this series, The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes was released.
  • I chose to rank this novel number one because it not only has a really interesting storyline with complex characters, but Suzanne Collins also did a wonderful job when it came to worldbuilding throughout the series. Literary fans will also appreciate the many allusions to other literary works sprinkled throughout the novel.

2. The Odyssey by Homer

  • This staple in Greek mythology serves as a sequel to The Illiad, following Odysseus’ arduous journey home after fighting in the Trojan War. Odysseus must take on all sorts of challenges, from the island of the Lotus Eaters to defeating the Cyclops Polyphemus to escaping Calypso’s island, during his ten-year year journey back to Ithaca.
  • I chose to rank this classic Greek mythological novel second because it was entertaining and engaging throughout the entirety of the story. Additionally, because it is such a well-known classic after you have read it, you can begin to pick up on allusions and make connections to other works of literature.
  • I would recommend this novel to fans of the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, as well as fans of the novels Circe and The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller.

3. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

  • Described through the eyes of Nick Carraway, The Great Gatsby tells the story of Jay Gatsby, a mysterious millionaire, and his tragic attempts to reunite with his young love, Daisy Buchanan. 
  • This novel teaches readers about the American Dream and how dreams may be corrupted over time.
  • In case you start to doubt this later in the list, Shakespeare’s novels aren’t the only ones that can end tragically as you will see if you choose to read this novel.
  • This novel was also made into a film, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire, in 2013.
  • I gave The Great Gatsby the number three spot on this list because of its complex characters and ability to keep readers engaged and entertained throughout the entire novel.

4. Hamlet by William Shakespeare

  • Shakespeare’s Hamlet tells the tragic story of a vengeful Hamlet as he tries to avenge the murder of his father, who was killed by the now king and Hamlet’s uncle, Claudius. Throughout the play, Hamlet is plagued with the decision to act or be inactive as he struggles to maintain his sanity. 
  • In case you were unable to understand my description of the plot of this novel above, the storyline can also be recognized in the animated children’s film The Lion King.
  • There have been many film adaptions for this play, including a 3-hour-long word-for-word adaption by Kenneth Branagh. 
  • “To be or not to be” ranked fourth; ultimately, I decided to rank Hamlet fourth because of its classic nature and ability to accurately and interestingly showcase Hamlet’s inner turmoil. I would recommend this play to anyone who wants to appreciate literature on a deeper level, as many modern pieces draw from the works of Shakespeare for allusions.

5. How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster

  • This informative book explains to readers how to analyze everything in novels, from weather to vampires to irony, while providing relevant and interesting examples to help avid readers analyze a variety of literary texts. 
  • Although not a narrative novel like the rest on this list, this book was still an extremely interesting, entertaining, and helpful guide to reading. 
  • I would recommend this book to not only readers wishing to expand their literary and analytical knowledge but also to aspiring writers as the novel gives advice that could be applicable to both readers and writers. 
  • I chose to rank this informative book fifth because it was very eye-opening, while also engaging and interesting.

6. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

  • Setting the stage for all future romantic tragedies, this classic tragic love story follows Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet, and the difficulty their young love faces as members of feuding families. 
  • Many studios, directors, and actors have brought this play to life, both on the stage and on the big screen, with reenactments including everything from Leonardo DiCaprio’s Romeo and Juliet to Disney’s Gnomeo and Juliet.
  • “Romeo O Romeo wherefore art thou Romeo;” thou art ranked sixth Romeo. Romeo and Juliet ranked sixth on this list because of its likable characters (cough cough Benvolio cough cough), at times witty humor, and importance to literature as a whole (because it serves as a template to many modern romance and tragedy works). 

7. Life of Pi by Yann Martel

  • After his family’s ship crashes on their journey to Canada, Pi finds himself trapped on a lifeboat with a tiger. Pi must learn to fend for himself in order to survive on the lifeboat for 227 days in which he forms a complicated relationship with Richard Parker, the Bengal tiger.
  • Life of Pi was made into a film in 2012, with Suraj Sharma taking on the lead role of Pi. 
  • Life of Pi ranks seventh on this list because it was easy to read, had an interesting plot, and well-crafted imagery.

8. The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

  • This collection of linked short stories follows a platoon of American soldiers and describes their difficult experiences during and after the Vietnam War.
  • I ranked this novel eighth because of its eye-opening storyline, which teaches readers about not only all of the physical dangers of war but also the mental tolls war takes on its soldiers.

9. Macbeth by William Shakespeare

  • “Double double toil and trouble” this entire play is about a power struggle. The final Shakespearean tragedy on this list is Macbeth. After witches convince Macbeth he will be king, he kills the present King Duncan. Chaos seems to follow the initial murder Macbeth committed, as many more characters die and further struggles ensue as the play ultimately results in another tragedy.
  • I ranked Macbeth ninth because the play was overall very interesting and entertaining; however, I did not find it as eye-opening or enjoyable as the previously listed works.

10. 1984 by George Orwell

  • This dystopian novel follows Winston Smith as he attempts to rebel against the Party, a totalitarian force. This novel coined the popular term “Big Brother,” which is utilized now to refer to something that is constantly watching and controlling everything and everyone.
  • 1984 is ranked tenth on this list because it had a simple plot to follow, with interesting symbolism; however, I did not really enjoy the storyline, nor were any of the characters very likable.

11. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

  • To Kill a Mockingbird follows the case of a black man falsely accused of rape by a white woman, through the young eyes of Scout and Jem, Atticus Finch’s, the defendant’s lawyer, children. The novel is a commentary on racism and integrity in the South during the Great Depression. 
  • To Kill a Mockingbird is ranked 11th on this list because of its depressing themes and disturbing storyline (yes, I understand that was part of the point it was trying to make, but understanding that did not make it any more enjoyable to read).

12. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

  • Siddhartha tells the story of Siddhartha on his spiritual journey of self-discovery in hopes of reaching enlightenment. 
  • I ranked Siddhartha second-to-last because the plot was extremely slow-moving and overall very boring, making it difficult to maintain my engagement throughout the novel.

13. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

  • The final novel on this list tells the story of Lenny and George, two migrant ranch workers searching for a new job during the Great Depression. George looks out for Lenny who is a gentle giant, but not fully there mentally.
  • I ranked this novella last because I found the plot to be very frustrating and boring, and I found each of the characters to be extremely unlikable. Overall, I cannot think of one redeemable trait this novel has.

Despite the fact that the vast majority of novels on this list do not have happy endings, I would like to end this article on a happy note; I would like to thank you for your interest in my opinions, and express how impressed I am that you actually took the time to read through this lengthy list. Also, feel free to comment if you disagree with any of my rankings.

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About the Contributor
Reagan Carpenter
Reagan Carpenter, Staff Writer
Reagan Carpenter is a first-year writer for the Hawk Herald and a senior at Forest Hills Eastern High School. She participates in the National Honor Society, Kids Food Basket, Volunteer Club, FHPS Shared Voices Committee, and is a leader for Project ChARLIE. She has also played on the Varsity soccer team since her freshman year and has loved every moment of that experience. Outside of school she enjoys spending time with her friends and family; you can often find her  watching a good movie or tv show in her free time.
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