Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Should Be Taught In Schools

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

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Hello lovely readers! Welcome to another Top Ten Tuesday. This weeks topic is a ‘back to school/learning freebie’ so I have decided to go for some books thatI think should be taught in schools. These are just my opinions and I really hope you enjoy my list!

1. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

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Summary: from Amazon

I was supposed to be having the time of my life.

When Esther Greenwood wins an internship on a New York fashion magazine in 1953, she is elated, believing she will finally realise her dream to become a writer. But in between the cocktail parties and piles of manuscripts, Esther’s life begins to slide out of control. She finds herself spiralling into serious depression as she grapples with difficult relationships and a society which refuses to take her aspirations seriously.

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath’s only novel, was originally published in 1963 under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas. The novel is partially based on Plath’s own life and descent into mental illness, and has become a modern classic.

Why:

I read The Bell Jar for the first time this year and I found it an incredibly affecting book. It is not a particularly pleasant read but the depiction of mental illness really hits home and comes across as honest and genuine. This may be because Plath herself partly based it on her own life and therefore had such a personal connection and understanding of her main character, Esther. I think mental health is one of the most important topics that should be addressed in schools because it’s something that affects pretty much everyone in some way. The Bell Jar would be a good place to start that conversation from.

2. The Exact Opposite of Okay by Laura Steven

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Summary: from Amazon

Izzy O’Neill here! Impoverished orphan, aspiring comedian and Slut Extraordinaire, if the gossip sites are anything to go by . . .
Izzy never expected to be eighteen and internationally reviled. But when explicit photos involving her, a politician’s son and a garden bench are published online, the trolls set out to take her apart. Armed with best friend Ajita and a metric ton of nachos, she tries to laugh it off – but as the daily slut-shaming intensifies, she soon learns the way the world treats teenage girls is not okay. It’s the Exact Opposite of Okay.

Why:

Social media and having such a huge online presence feels like something that has been around forever but in reality it is still a fairly recent phenomenon and I’m not sure teenagers always fully understand the damage it can do. This book is a great way to show the dangers and risks of living your life whilst being judged by people who have never met you on the internet. The main character, Izzy, is also a great example for young women as she is strong, smart and self-aware.

3. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

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Summary: from Amazon

From her first moment at Merryweather High, Melinda Sordino knows she’s an outcast. She busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops. Now her old friends won’t talk to her, and people she doesn’t know glare at her. No one knows why she called the police, and she can’t get out the words to explain. So she retreats into her head, determined not to think about it. But, try as she might, it just won’t go away…

Why:

This book has been around for ten years now but still resonates in a huge way today. It brings up questions of how to deal with an assault and how it can affect someone in catastrophic and life changing ways. I think it would be a fantastic book to discuss with young adults that are a similar age to these characters because there is still a long way to go in the discussion about consent, assault and the ramifications of the way society treats the victims of these crimes.

4. The Mercy Seat by Elizabeth H. Winthrop

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Summary: from Amazon

As the sun begins to set over Louisiana one October day in 1943, a young black man faces the final hours of his life: at midnight, eighteen-year-old Willie Jones will be executed by electric chair for raping a white girl – a crime some believe he did not commit.

In a tale taut with tension, events unfold hour by hour from the perspectives of nine people involved. They include Willie himself, who knows what really happened, and his father, desperately trying to reach the town jail to see his son one last time; the prosecuting lawyer, haunted by being forced to seek the death penalty against his convictions, and his wife, who believes Willie to be innocent; the priest who has become a friend to Willie; and a mother whose only son is fighting in the Pacific, bent on befriending her black neighbours in defiance of her husband.

Why:

This book would probably be more important in American school as it discusses the death penalty but the themes of injustice and prejudice are important and present in every country across the world. The Mercy Seat is such a well written book and despite being a relatively short novel it packs such a strong punch and will stick in the readers memory for a long time after they finish it. The issues in this book don’t have easy answers but it would hopefully prompt an interesting discussion.

5. The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

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Summary: from Amazon

I tattooed a number on her arm. She tattooed her name on my heart.

In 1942, Lale Sokolov arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau. He was given the job of tattooing the prisoners marked for survival – scratching numbers into his fellow victims’ arms in indelible ink to create what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust.

Waiting in line to be tattooed, terrified and shaking, was a young girl. For Lale – a dandy, a jack-the-lad, a bit of a chancer – it was love at first sight. And he was determined not only to survive himself, but to ensure this woman, Gita, did, too.

So begins one of the most life-affirming, courageous, unforgettable and human stories of the Holocaust: the love story of the tattooist of Auschwitz.

Why:

I think pretty much all schools teach about the horrors of the Holocaust during World War Two but I feel like sometimes students don’t always get a chance to hear personal stories from the people who were there. Their stories are of the utmost importance as it helps young people to understand the importance of not forgetting what happened during a horrifying period of history. This book is full of horrors but is also not without hope which I think makes it the perfect book for young people to read.

6. The Hunters by Kat Gordon

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Summary: from Amazon

Sweeping, evocative and sumptuously told, The Hunters is a dramatic coming-of-age story, a complex portrayal of first love and family loyalty and a passionate reimagining of the Happy Valley set in all their glory and notoriety.

Theo Miller is fourteen years old, bright and ambitious, when he steps off the train into the simmering heat and uproar of 1920s Nairobi. Neither he, nor his earnest younger sister Maud, is prepared for the turbulent mix of joy and pain their new life in Kenya will bring.

Their father is Director of Kenyan Railways, a role it is assumed Theo will inherit. But when he meets enchanting American heiress Sylvie de Croÿ and her charismatic, reckless companion, Freddie Hamilton, his aspirations turn in an instant.

Sylvie and Freddie’s charm is magnetic and Theo is welcomed into the heart of their inner circle: rich, glamourous expatriates, infamous for their hedonistic lifestyles. Yet behind their intoxicating allure lies a more powerful cocktail of lust, betrayal, deceit and violence that he realises he cannot avoid. As dark clouds gather over Kenya’s future and his own, he must find a way back to his family – to Maud – before it is too late.

Why:

Throughout all my years of schooling in the UK I honestly do not remember ever being taught anything about colonialism at all. In fact, until reading this book set in 1920’s colonial Kenya I really knew very little about the effects of the British Empire. I think that lack of information about it in schools is a huge mistake and I wish I had had the chance to discuss a book like The Hunters in English or History class. I think the events of the book would make learning more about this period of history so fascinating.

7. The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

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Summary: from Amazon

From familiar fairy tales and legends – Red Riding Hood, Bluebeard, Puss in Boots, Beauty and the Beast, vampires and werewolves – Angela Carter has created an absorbing collection of dark, sensual, fantastic stories.

Why:

I love fairy tales and they have had a huge impact on culture and society. The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories are gorgeously written by the incredibly talented Angela Carter and I wish I had been taught about these stories when I was in Secondary school. I did study Edgar Allan Poe and I think Angela Carter’s work has been just as influential yet I hadn’t heard of her until well into my adult years! They would also be good fun to discuss because of their dark and evocative nature.

8. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

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Summary: from Amazon

Beginning in the 1950s in a poor but vibrant neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples, Ferrante’s four-volume story spans almost sixty years, as its protagonists, the fiery and unforgettable Lila, and the bookish narrator, Elena, become women, wives, mothers, and leaders, all the while maintaining a complex and at times conflictual friendship. Book one in the series follows Lila and Elena from their first fateful meeting as ten-year-olds through their school years and adolescence.

Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighborhood, a city, and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her protagonists.

Why:

i’ve never really read anything like The Neapolitan Novels and I wish more people I know had read it because I would love to discuss it with someone. There is so much to unpick in these books and they really do examine every stage of growing up which I think would be of huge benefit to young adults as they go through similar experiences and trials. They are written in such a gritty and brutally honest way and they would be fantastic reading material for teenagers today.

9. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

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Summary: from Amazon

In northern Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnúsdóttir is condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of her lover.

Agnes is sent to wait out her final months on the farm of district officer Jón Jónsson, his wife and their two daughters. Horrified to have a convicted murderer in their midst, the family avoid contact with Agnes. Only Tóti, the young assistant priest appointed Agnes’s spiritual guardian, is compelled to try to understand her. As the year progresses and the hardships of rural life force the household to work side by side, Agnes’s story begins to emerge and with it the family’s terrible realization that all is not as they had assumed.

Based on actual events, Burial Rites is an astonishing and moving novel about the truths we claim to know and the ways in which we interpret what we’re told. In beautiful, cut-glass prose, Hannah Kent portrays Iceland’s formidable landscape, in which every day is a battle for survival, and asks, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?

Why:

I consider Burial Rites to be one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read and for that reason I think it is a book worthy of being taught in schools. I feel like schools get stuck in a routine of analysing the classics with students without considering more recent and unusual books. I think students could benefit from looking at how writers can evoke an atmosphere with just the words they choose especially if they have any interest in a future in the book industry.

10. Asking For It by Louise O’Neill

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Summary: from Amazon

In a small town where everyone knows everyone, Emma O’Donovan is different. She is the special one – beautiful, popular, powerful. And she works hard to keep it that way.

Until that night . . .

Now, she’s an embarrassment. Now, she’s just a slut. Now, she is nothing.

And those pictures – those pictures that everyone has seen – mean she can never forget.

Why:

This is another book that looks at the effects of social media and the judgemental nature of it. Asking For It doesn’t hold back at all in showing how bad things can get when a person loses all semblance of a private life and has to endure the criticism and scrutiny of everyone they know and many that they don’t know. The plot of this book feels like something that could easily and probably has happened and it’s such an important conversation to have with teenagers.

Well there you go! That is my list of books I think should be taught in schools. I really hope you enjoyed reading and I would love to know your thoughts on my list in the comments and please do leave a link to your great TTT list too! Happy Tuesday everyone!

34 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Should Be Taught In Schools

  1. Sara @ The Bibliophagist says:

    I totally agree with the first two books on your list! The Bell Jar could start a great conversation about mental health and I think reading The Exact Opposite of Okay would be a great way to bring up a lot of important topics without making it feel like a big lecture. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  2. alicerosesimmons says:

    Great list and I loved how you did this topic in such an interesting way! Although I have yet to read any of these, it definitely sounds like alot of these should be taught in schools, and so I will have to add a fair few of these books to my TBR 🙂
    My TTT

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Anne@Headfullofbooks says:

    Ah, Burial Rites. A friend from Australia told me that I must read that book and I completely forgot. Thanks for the reminder. In America it is so hard to get books approved for class usage that I think some schools just stick with the tried and true to avoid the hassle of going through the tedious process which activates all the crazy people who don’t want their kids to ever see the word sex.

    Liked by 1 person

    • lifewithallthebooks says:

      Burial Rites is fantastic so I’m glad to have reminded you! I didn’t realise there was such a process to getting a book approved – I wonder if it’s similar here in the uk? It is a shame it’s such a challenge because there are so many thought provoking books that I think high schoolers would gain a lot from! 😊

      Like

  4. justonemorepaige says:

    What a great list! I totally agree that more books addressing current day issues need to be taught. Mixing those in with classics would do a much better job preparing students for life. I love the idea of Speak and The Bell Jar and The Exact Opposite of Ok. Also, I’d add something like The Hate You Give.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Maggie says:

    I love how you set up this post, especially how you included book summaries and the reasons why you chose them! I also really enjoyed The Bell Jar and want to reread it soon! Happy Tuesday!

    Liked by 1 person

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