5 Books to Read Before You Graduate


photo by Katie Golden

Often the books that are not assigned in class can have the most profound effect on us.

Amanda Lu, Opinions Editor

As we move into the second half of the beginning of the end (or perhaps, the end before our beginning), we finally have the time to do everything we have sacrificed for good grades, sleep, and extracurriculars. I know that I’m excited to forget about the stress of school and finally nosedive into that stack of books (that is gradually turning into a tower) that I told myself I’d read.

Even though I admittedly don’t read as much as I used to in middle school and my underclassmen years, I still make an effort to read once in a while. There were a few books that really resonated with me (as a high school student in suburban America) and profoundly shaped the way I view myself and my experiences. However, I don’t think they would have impacted me as much if I had read them later in my life.

I decided to make a list, because I think every high school student should read at least one of the books that I hold so dear to my heart. Here are five books (in no particular order) that you should read before you graduate and move on to the next phase of your life.

The Opposite of Loneliness, Marina Keegan

I read this posthumously published collection of nonfiction and fiction works the summer before my senior year, and I instantly fell in love with Keegan and her writing. The novel’s namesake comes from Keegan’s essay “The Opposite of Loneliness,” a highly acclaimed ode to her experiences at Yale. Keegan writes with an authentic, eloquent, yet unpretentious voice — she experienced the same experiences as us and uses the same teenager-y jargon to describe those all-too-familiar experiences but somehow sounds more worldly and wise than we could ever. She’s basically the better version of ourselves.

The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger

As the quintessential representation of teenage angst, how could this novel not make my list? Holden Caulfield knows what it’s like to question everyone and everything around him and even his own existence. Holden Caulfield knows what it’s like to want to run away from the rest of the world and just escape his problems, even if it’s only for a day or two. Holden Caulfield knows what it’s like to be you, and in a sense, he is you, but he wears a cooler hat and is more articulate.

Excellent Sheep, William Deresiewicz

Have you ever felt disillusioned with the competitive atmosphere of school? Do you have a severe case of brain bulimia, vomiting arbitrary facts you learned in a class that you really couldn’t care less about onto all your tests? Do you feel like you’re “learning” all the time, but you’re not actually learning? Dr. Deresiewicz, a Yale professor, recognizes all these symptoms in the students at top colleges. What’s worse is that the symptoms become more severe as each year passes. Excellent Sheep is a brilliant piece of nonfiction that ties together everything that is wrong with the American higher education system, and proposes several plans to mitigate the problem, which starts with us, the students.

The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides

If I could list all of Eugenides’s novels on here, I gladly would, but I was told specifically to limit it to one. So, here it is. The Virgin Suicides is Eugenides’s first novel, and, as always, it is nothing short of spectacular. The novel is told from the point of view from a confused but maturing boy in a group of boys who have a slightly weird obsession with a family of girls, who all, as the title alludes to, eventually commit suicide. This novel is an articulate summarization of all the curiosities we’ve had in our adolescence, and, as always, Eugenides’s possesses the brilliant talent of making mundane surburbia interesting.

Siddhartha, Herman Hesse

Perhaps the most enlightening and important book on the list, Siddhartha is a brilliant (and not to mention, short) novel about Siddhartha’s path to enlightenment. Siddhartha, in the beginning, is exactly who we are now: high school students sheltered in the security of the Wexford bubble. Well, not exactly, because he is a prince in Nepal, but that’s beside the point. Siddhartha learns a lot from his books and prestigious education, but he doesn’t truly know anything. He sets out on his own journey, living through different personas, until he finds himself. This novel foreshadows our future after graduation. The truth is, we think we know ourselves, but we don’t. We think we’re so old, but we’re actually so, so young. We’ve lived comfortable lives for too long, and for the first time ever, we have the freedom to step into this big world alone, and we have so much to live for.