The Student Voice of North Allegheny Senior High School

The Uproar

The Student Voice of North Allegheny Senior High School

The Uproar

The Student Voice of North Allegheny Senior High School

The Uproar

English Class Novels in Review

Required reading can often be tedious, but some books turn out to be much more enjoyable than expected.
Ruby Morris
AP English is synonymous with challenging literature, but which books are the most rewarding?

It is no secret that students share strong sentiments about required readings for English. Some may think that they are awfully boring and can be considered a waste of time. Others may hold the notion that not all of these books fall into that category, and some can actually be interesting to read. Required readings introduce us to a variety of genres of literature and not every genre is particularly appealing. But what went right with some books? What went wrong? On this note, I would like to explore various books I’ve read for English class from 9th-12th grade (with spoilers, unfortunately).


Books I Liked

The Book Thief (sophomore year)

The Book Thief, written by Markus Zusak, follows a young girl, Liesel, and depicts what it is like to live during the Holocaust. Liesel often steals books from book burnings, hence the title. Liesel finds herself in trouble when she meets Max, a Jewish man, and offers to give him a place to hide

I don’t typically enjoy historical fiction, but I was in for a wonderful surprise. 

The novel creates lovable characters that truly make you feel and care about the severity of the situation. Though these characters are fictional, the book portrays them as if they were real. The story does justice by depicting the horrible situation everyone is in at that time period and fleshes out the characters so that they feel human and the audience can find themselves sympathizing with them. Portraying how some characters had entirely ordinary lives and how those worlds turn completely upside down leaves the reader with a gut-wrenching hole in their stomach. A particularly compelling character, Rudy, is Liesel’s best friend, and the book details their childish, often silly interactions. The final twist near the end of the book is so shocking that readers will have a hard time moving on to the next book.

1984 (junior year)

1984 is a dystopian 20th century novel that follows the life of a man named Winston and how he grapples with day-to-day life under the strict rule of Big Brother – Winston’s society is completely controlled by a totalitarian government, known as The Party, or INGSOC, which watches people’s every move. 

When I picked up 1984, I simply could not put it down. Perhaps my review may be a little biased, as I have loved dystopian literature since my middle school years. 1984’s most captivating detail is its complex world-building. 1984 designs a whole new world so different from ours, and it is interesting to consider how the author, George Orwell, considered the situation in the book to be what would follow in the future. The novel designs completely original terms such as newspeak (the notion that the government is looking to reduce as much day-to-day vocabulary as possible so people have limited capacity to express themselves) and the Party’s absurdly inhumane rules, so absurd that one finds themselves engrossed in the book. 

An example of such rules is to obey whatever the Party states – if the Party says 2+2=5, then one must simply accept it. If these rules are so strict and the protagonist is the rebel who has not yet been caught, how does he avoid the Party’s ever-so-watchful eye? Such conflicts effectively build up suspense, and this particular suspense continues throughout the book, making it an interesting read.

Crime and Punishment (senior year)

Crime and Punishment is a Russian novel that follows an impoverished student, Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, who commits a murder and spends the rest of the novel dealing with his punishment – most of it is self-inflicted.

Crime and Punishment certainly captured my attention with its nuance and complexity. It is incredibly dense and there are many things that the author, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, does right, but here are the key attractions: the unique structure of the novel and the well-written characters (especially women, surprising from a conservative Christian author from the 1800s). With no doubt, the novel’s unique structure is one of its main appeals. The “crime” aspect happens only in Part 1 and the rest of the book deals with the aftermath – Dostoyevsky writes this sort of moral suffering in Raskolnikov incredibly well. With excruciating detail in the main character’s nightmares and hallucinations, the reader can almost feel the torturous guilt Raskolnikov is grappling with. 

Shifting the focus to another aspect, the female characters are given captivating personalities and have their own stories, so the book is not always focused on Raskolnikov. For instance, Raskolnikov’s sister, Dunya, is depicted as a woman who knows her self-worth and subverts the typical trope of a submissive woman who adheres to orders given by men. Dunya’s colorful character is only one example of the numerous characters in the book that add variety and suspense. 


Books I Disliked

Tell the Wolves I’m Home (freshman year)

This novel follows a young girl, June, as she tries to tackle with grief after her uncle’s death and focuses on her relationships with her family. The title comes from an important painting gifted to June by her deceased uncle. June also meets her uncle’s boyfriend and starts to form a relationship with him.

I started off liking this book, as I typically enjoy coming-of-age novels. The book depicts June’s relationships with her family well, and the depiction of grief is well-executed, especially with the use of symbolism behind the painting.

Yet, this story takes many weird turns that only romanticize immoral behavior. For instance, there is a subplot involving June’s romantic feelings for her uncle and eventually her uncle’s boyfriend. The decision to include these storylines is unnecessary and awkward – there is a part in the book where her uncle’s boyfriend says that June should not hold her feelings back and that she cannot control them at the same time he embraces his own his feelings for June. Without the subplots, the quality of the book would be much better. 

Moby-Dick (junior year)

This 18th century novel written by Herman Melville follows a character named Ishmael and his journey on the Pequod with an eccentric captain who seeks revenge on a whale named Moby Dick

Moby Dick’s greatest weakness is its length. The climax does not occur until the end of the book, and while some of Ishmael’s history lessons can be considered interesting, the book dwells too much on whales and the anatomy of whales. There are chapters that, in my opinion, add virtually nothing to the book and only make it longer, and taking in the fact that the book is a required summer reading assignment for AP English 3, one is chained to reading these mundane chapters. The novel is framed as an epic hero adventure, and yet there are not many aspects that make it rightfully deserves the name. 

Walden (junior year)

Walden follows the transcendentalist author, Henry David Thoreau, and his simple life in the woods. (Hint: there is not much plot). 

Walden is commonly disliked by many AP English 3 students, and I find myself strongly agreeing with this shared opinion. I initially found Transcendentalism to be interesting, but as I started to read Walden, I couldn’t help but be consumed by boredom, which only fueled my urge to skim the reading. While Walden had the opportunity to show a unique perspective of living life simply and vastly different from the public’s way of living, it goes into excruciating detail that leaves readers feeling annoyed. In particular, there is a segment in the book where the narrator builds a house, and with the way it is written and the amount of detail it goes into, it achieves nothing but a yawn from the reader.

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About the Contributor
Teju Annamaraju
Teju Annamaraju, Staff Writer
Teju is a senior at NASH. Outside of school, she dances and, when she has free time, likes to write and code websites. She is always sleepy and tries hard to pay attention in period 1 Physics.

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