One of the most fun parts of my job is choosing summer reading. It’s also a little bit stressful because I care deeply about selecting books that students will love and connect to, but that are also easy for students to read and process on their own. Women in Literature is my favorite class to teach and, since it’s a senior elective, I have a little more freedom to pick my books in that class. I liked to change up my Women in Lit summer reading list nearly every year, and this year I really loved every single book on my list and the variety of voices, themes, and genres included. It still needs work and I’m sure I’ll find books this year that I’ll need to add next summer, but, for this year, I’m calling summer reading a success. Here’s what I picked, why I picked it, and how the students responded.
*Circe by Madeline Miller. So many students love mythology and Percy Jackson was big when they were younger. I wanted to offer them a retelling of a classic myth from the perspective of a strong, powerful, and perhaps misunderstood female character.
- Student response: Great! Only three girls chose this as their book, but they all rated it 4 or 5 stars and their discussions about it have been really interesting.
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab. I wanted to give them a fantasy option and this one is both intricate and easy-to-read. I like that the commentary on gender is subtle and that there are both female heroes and villains. I also love having the opportunity to introduce them to a new series in the hope that they’ll keep reading.
- Student response: Only three girls picked this one and I’d say it went over pretty well. One student absolutely loved it and the other two liked it, but didn’t seem particularly excited about it. I still want to offer a fantasy option in the future, but I may switch this one out.
*Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. I love that this story has relatable teenage characters, drastically different female characters, and a wide ranging representation of motherhood. I also like that adoption is so prominently featured. I don’t think there’s another book in my school’s curriculum that touches on transracial adoption and I wanted to provide that for my class.
- Student response: This was probably the biggest winner of this year’s selections. This is the second year I’ve included it as an option and both years it was the most popular and most well-loved option. It’s basically a perfect summer book because it’s compulsively readable and introduces students to a lot of the themes we discuss in class. Plus there’s a TV show coming out, which is always a good sell!
*A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza. I love family dramas for students because it helps them get inside a parental perspective while still validating the experience of being a teenager and making mistakes. Additionally I chose this book because the Muslim American experience is otherwise lacking in our curriculum and because Mirza explores the effect of 9/11. Today’s high schoolers are so young that they have no recollection of 9/11 and many weren’t even born yet (crazy!). I thought it would be interesting to give them a book that features such a devastiting and important moment in American history.
- Student response: Only two students read this one, which was disappointing, but understandable given its length. They both enjoyed it a lot and one student said it was the most relatable book she’s read for school. I’m going to call this one a win and hope that more students pick it in future years.
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward. This is in part a selfish pick, because it’s one of my favorite books of all time, but there are also so many good reasons to include it. I love including books with teenage protagonists and Esch is a fantastic character. She’s strong yet vulnerable, and she has a vibrant interior life where she thinks about everything from her crushes to Greek mythology. I also appreciate that this book prompts conversations about the intersections of race, class, and gender, which is something that comes up a lot in our class.
- Student response: So good, which makes me so happy! This was the second most popular pick and every single student loved it. The only way I’ll take it off the summer reading list is if I put it into the core curriculum.
Woman Hollering Creek by Sandra Cisneros. I chose this because I’ve had great success teaching this collection in Women in Literature before and wanted to include a short story collection in the summer reading options. Cisneros also discusses the intersection of race, class, and gender and many of these stories feature challenging but important topics such as domestic violence and sexual abuse.
- Student response: Unfortunately, this one didn’t go over very well. I had two students choose it and while both had individual stories they liked, they didn’t quite understand the way the collection works as a whole. I can’t decide if I’ll look for another short story collection for next year or instead choose a novel that deals with similar themes.
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Starred books were graciously gifted to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.