All across the country, contemporary books are quickly joining the ranks of the classics on high school reading lists, and for good reason. Like the literary greats before them, modern titles have the power to introduce new and diverse perspectives, explore universal themes, and challenge students to think critically about the texts they read.

Based on titles we know are currently being taught in classrooms, we've compiled this contemporary high school reading list of 20 titles your students will love. We've sorted the books by grade level, considering things such as text difficulty and content. However, just as reading levels among students vary, the titles featured are certainly flexible.

Ready to read? Let's go!

9th Grade

  1. Bless Me, Ultima

    If you're seeking cultural diversity in your literature curriculum, Rudolfo Anaya's classic piece of Chicano literature is an excellent choice! In 1940s New Mexico, an old healer named Ultima comes to stay with Antonio and his family. Intrigued by Ultima's mysterious aura and knowledge of folk magic, Antonio opens his eyes to a spiritual realm that was once unfamiliar. Anaya's use of the supernatural and his fine lyrical prose bring the novel's themes of, innocence, spirituality, and good versus evil to life.

  2. The Hate U Give

    Poignant and topical, The Hate U Give is being lauded as one of this generation's most important books. When a police officer kills sixteen-year-old Starr Carter's childhood best friend, her world is irrevocably upended. The Hate U Give deftly tackles themes of racism, police brutality, and societal injustice and will undoubtedly lead to plenty of interesting discussions, both in and out of the classroom.

  3. Unwind

    If you want to include contemporary science fiction in your curriculum, consider Unwind. This National Book Award winner tackles themes of free will, consciousness, and trust throughout its gripping story. After the Second Civil War, which had been fought over reproductive rights, three teenagers try to escape being "unwound"—having their organs harvested and distributed to others against their will. Although each comes from a different background, the teenagers band together for survival, learning the true meaning of life on their journey to freedom.

  4. The Last Lecture

    Inspire your students to seize the day with this memoir, an expansion of professor Randy Pausch's final lecture to his students after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. Full of wisdom and positivity, this nonfiction text is an inspirational guide to personal betterment. Since videos of Pausch's original lecture are freely available online, The Last Lecture is a great resource for working with standards examining how similar information is presented in different media.

  5. Monster

    Written by Walter Dean Myers, Monster is sure to engage even your most reluctant readers because of its unconventional structure and captivating plot. Part epistle, part screenplay, Monster tells the story of Steve Harmon, a teenager from Harlem on trial as an accomplice to murder. While in jail, he records his experiences, both in prison and in the courtroom, in the form of a film script. As they read Monster, students will appreciate Harmon's perspective in full as he tries to come to terms with the course his life has taken.

10th Grade

  1. The Fault in Our Stars

    Thanks to its recent movie adaptation, your students may already be familiar with this title. After meeting one another at a cancer support group, teenagers Hazel and Augustus soon fall in love, bonding over their uncertain futures. However, their relationship eventually is cut short by the disease. Both funny and tragic, The Fault in Our Stars will certainly make your students ponder heavy subjects like love, death, and the unfair nature of fate.

  2. Fast Food Nation

    Often compared to The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, Eric Schlosser's nonfiction book Fast Food Nation takes an unflinching look at the controversial facets of the fast food industry, including the exploitation of minimum wage workers, the dangers of child-targeted advertising, and the often hazardous conditions of food processing plants. Use this book as an engaging way to introduce students to investigative journalism and to examine broader themes of ethics and consumerism.

  3. The Wave

    Although it was written in 1981, Todd Strasser's The Wave is incredibly relevant in today's social climate. Based on true events that occurred in a high school in Palo Alto, California, The Wave details the ways in which a history teacher's thought experiment goes terribly wrong. Consider adding this book to your curriculum for its messages about the dangers of groupthink and the insidious ways in which movements like fascism grow.

  4. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

    Written as a series of letters to a friend, The Perks of Being a Wallflower is the story of Charlie, a quiet high school freshman who prefers to observe the world around him, a result stemming from the trauma he endured as a child. But after befriending Patrick and Sam, two quirky seniors, Charlie finds the value in participating in life and begins to heal from his past. Your students will surely find Charlie's accounts of adolescent issues, including social pressures, dating, abuse, and identity, all too relatable.

  5. Life of Pi

    Yann Martel’s allegorical novel comments heavily on the roles of spirituality and nature in shaping one’s identity and encouraging personal growth. After a storm sinks the ship on which his family was traveling, Pi Patel finds himself adrift in a small lifeboat with only a large Bengal tiger to keep him company. Despite his circumstances, Pi is determined to survive, relying on his spiritual beliefs to keep his morale high.

11th Grade

  1. The Glass Castle

    Jeannette Walls's memoir, The Glass Castle, explores her unconventional upbringing by an alcoholic father and erratic mother. Her parents' nomadic lifestyle, spurred by debt and unemployment, exposed Walls to the harsh realities of poverty and ostracism at a young age. Both humorous and heart-wrenching, this memoir speaks greatly to the power of forgiveness and resilience.

  2. The Things They Carried

    Since its publication in 1990, The Things They Carried has become an unparalleled portrayal of the Vietnam War, an incomparable work of American literature, and a staple title taught in schools across the country. Its structure, a set of related short stories based on Tim O'Brien's experiences, will keep your students eager to read more, and what the soldiers endured will educate your students on the horrors of war.

  3. Nickel and Dimed

    When journalist Barbara Ehrenreich decides to go undercover as a minimum wage worker, she discovers just how challenging life is for millions of Americans. This investigative nonfiction title makes a great springboard for conversations about the causes and effects of income inequality, and Ehrenreich's comprehensive analysis of welfare reform will make your students think about the social responsibility of both governments and individuals.

  4. The Poisonwood Bible

    Rich with historical and biblical allusions, The Poisonwood Bible is the story of Nathan Price, a missionary from Georgia, and his family living in the Belgian Congo in 1959. The family witnesses the political turmoil as the Congo shifts to a postcolonial country, all while dealing with their own personal troubles. Because the story is told from the perspectives of five distinct characters, The Poisonwood Bible is perfect for examining how different narrative voices can alter a reader's understanding of the plot.

  5. The Leavers

    Winner of the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Fiction, The Leavers is a powerful novel that examines cultural heritage, familial relationships, and the true meaning of belonging. When his mother, an undocumented Chinese immigrant, suddenly goes missing, a boy named Deming Guo finds himself completely alone. It's not until he's adopted by well-meaning white parents and renamed Daniel Wilkinson that he realizes just how much he has lost.

12th Grade

  1. The Other Wes Moore

    Two boys, both named Wes Moore, live in Baltimore just blocks from each other, but their similar backgrounds result in wildly different outcomes. One Wes Moore became a Rhodes scholar, and the other a convicted murderer. Students interested in exploring the ways in which education, socioeconomic disparity, and parental support shape the individual—for better or for worse—will find this nonfiction title an insightful read.

  2. Never Let Me Go

    At its surface, Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go is a stunning coming-of-age tale centered around a woman named Kathy and her memories of her days at a boarding school in England. However, as Kathy's story progresses, Never Let Me Go transforms into a dystopian science-fiction novel, revealing a world in which human cloning is the norm. Aside from presenting students the opportunity to discuss themes of mortality and fate, this novel's complex plot will also help students refine their inference skills.

  3. The Handmaid's Tale

    In Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel, under the rule of a theocratic regime, women have no autonomy and are instead assigned to specific societal roles. Told from the perspective of an oppressed woman whose sole purpose is to reproduce, The Handmaid's Tale warns of the dangers of totalitarianism and is sure to ignite classroom discussions about identity, persecution, and female empowerment.

  4. The Road

    There's a reason The Road won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. In this post-apocalyptic story, an unnamed father and son journey through a desolate landscape, fighting gangs of thieves and cannibals to survive. While certainly bleak, and at times disturbing, Cormac McCarthy's novel is ultimately a testament to the bond between a father and son and a brutal examination of humanity at its worst.

  5. Little Bee

    A dual narrative about a young refugee escaping violence in Nigeria and the British family with whom she seeks asylum, Little Bee will build your students' empathy for people across the globe living under the constant threat of destruction and strife. This book is great for discussions about globalization and ways we can better protect the innocent—no matter where they're from.

You can find all these titles and more at Prestwick House! When you order from us, you'll always save at least 25% on any paperback. If the retail value of your order is at least $500, you'll save 30%. And if the retail value of your order is at least $2,500, you'll save 35% on all your paperbacks!

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