Richard Wright’s Native Son is an exceptional example of dynamic, participatory literature. Rather than allowing the reader to effortlessly absorb the words on the page, Wright undermines the passivity and comfort we often expect when reading. Both the content of the novel and Wright’s literary style provoke and disturb, immersing the reader in a dense psychological terrain that is simultaneously intimate and larger-than-life.
Set in Chicago in the 1930s, Native Son follows the life of Bigger Thomas, a young African-American man living in squalor with his mother and siblings. Bigger’s mother holds him accountable for the welfare of the family, but his ability to work towards a stable life seems perpetually hindered. He can’t overcome his poverty because he can’t get a job that pays well, and he can’t get a decent job because of his lack of education and limited social mobility. He is also imprisoned by the sense that, as an African-American man, his mere existence has been criminalized: “There was just the old feeling, the feeling that he had had all his life: he was black and had done wrong.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s enduring classic, The Little Prince, explores topics of great importance such as art, friendship, space travel, responsibility, proud flowers, and what a boa constrictor looks like after it has eaten an elephant. This cherished fable is narrated by a pilot whose plane crashed in the Sahara. After meeting the little prince in the desert, miles and miles from any inhabited place, our narrator gradually learns about the little prince’s travels and world view.
The little prince comes from Asteroid B-612, a very small planet where he dutifully cleaned out the miniature volcanoes and tended to his beloved flower. His flower had many demands, and her haughty manner made the little prince feel confused and manipulated. As a consequence, he decided to leave his home and go exploring.
Dateline: Hampstead, London, 1851
“He was a big and incredibly powerful collie, with a massive coat of burnished mahogany-and-snow and with absurdly small forepaws (which he spent at least an hour a day in washing) and with deep-set dark eyes that seemed to have a soul behind them. So much for the outer dog. For the inner: he had a heart that did not know the meaning of fear or disloyalty or of meanness.” – Albert Terhune
What if Jane Eyre fell in love with a rock star? This is what happens in April Lindner’s Jane, a modernization of Charlotte Brontë’s classic work. The result is a hot retelling that teens will relate to in a heartbeat. Rock star with a wild past? Check. Teen girl with a family who doesn’t understand her? Check. Passionate, roller coaster love story? All right!
Boring, can’t relate, and dull, dull, dull. That’s what some people think when they hear the word, “classic,” and you’re talking about books (not cars). Classics are often required reading in high school. But any book your English teacher assigns must be ancient as dirt and just about as exciting, you think. Classics may have stood the test of time, but do they stand up to today’s standards of young adult literature? From murder and romance, to dragons and magic spells, young adult books of the 21st century are thrilling, relevant, and escapist. With the plethora of incredible reading choices for teens now, how many classics would you bother to pick up? But these books are around for a reason. They are stories of adventure, death, and love. They hold you in awe, in fear, and in suspense. Give them a shot – you just might find yourself recommending them to your own kids when you’re ancient as dirt…
Check out this list of Must-Read Classics that are worth reading, even if your English teacher doesn’t recommend them.