The highs and lows of required reading

English classes are forever associated with books and reading. Some books students love and can’t wait to read, while others they hate but are forced to read. Here are best and worst required reading books in the eyes of staff writers Esther Lu (freshman and sophomore reviews) and Christina Calderon (junior and senior reviews).

Freshman Books

Favorite: “House on Mango Street” – Sandra Cisneros

Sandra Cisneros’ writings of her childhood flowed down the pages and really captivated me as a reader. It allowed me to take a sentimental glimpse into her childhood.

The story starts out with the protagonist, Esperanza, moving to a rundown neighborhood where many families are living below the poverty line. From there on the story moves rapidly as the reader watches Esperanza develop her taste from dolls and toys to heels and boys.

Many of the sufferings of having to move to new places and the wonders of meeting a diverse array of unique characters can only be best told through the eyes of a child, where descriptions are unfiltered.

Least Favorite: “Of Mice and Men” – John Steinbeck

This novel follows the journey of Lenny and George, two migrant workers who travel around California looking for work during the Great Depression as they try to fulfill an unattainable dream of purchasing land, farming on it and living the rest of their lives on that patch of paradise.

Every dark hole they enter leads into a deeper despair, but their courage to persist is admirable. Tension can always be found amongst the characters, even George and Lenny who are best friends.

I absolutely hated George for always putting on a mask of being a tough guy and treating Lenny with no decency. His seemingly negative outlook on his life gave the story a stormy overcast.

Sophomore Books

Favorite: “Joy Luck Club” – Amy Tan

Essentially, this is a story of mother-daughter relationships torn between two different cultures, American and Chinese.

Being Asian American, it was rare for me to identify racially with a book in school. Reading about Asians was a novelty because usually the only reference I could find about my race would be in some obscure passage of a history book. Otherwise, our non-stereotyped presence in American pop culture is barely acknowledged.

Personally Tan’s storytelling opened up a window for me to understand a part of my mom’s cultural background and how Chinese culture was ingrained into the way I was raised.

Least Favorite:  “Great Expectations” – Charles Dickens

My English teacher, Sean King, once told us, “to cut the fat” on an essay, and that is exactly what I would’ve told Charles Dickens had I been alive when he was writing this book.

There were many passages that I read and re-read just to grasp it’s simplistic meaning.

The story was a coming-of-age tale of a boy named Pip, who is an orphan.

He is startled by a convict one day in a graveyard and ordered by him to fetch him some supplies. Pip fearfully obeys. Little did he know that several years later, this convict, known as Magwitch, would pop up in his life again and play a significant role in his fortune.

Junior Books

Favorite: “The Catcher in the Rye” – J.D. Salinger

I love this book because of Holden Caulfield, a cynical teenager with a general hostility toward society.

Still, I cannot help but love him.

Throughout the book, Holden is struggling with typical teenage confusion and chooses to alienate himself from the people around him, many of whom he refers to as phony.

My favorite things about Holden is that while he is pessimistic and cynical, he has a longing for innocence.

All in all, I think this is a great novel that tells about Holden’s coming-of-age story in a way that either makes readers love Holden or hate him.

It is by far my favorite book from junior year, and there’s nothing phony about that.

Least favorite book: “Black Boy” – Richard Wright

This novel is a semi-autobiography that tells Wright’s life story through the character Richard Wright.

The plot of the story is intriguing and has a lot of interesting themes, but it was almost too much at times.

The book itself was very long even though the first part of the book moved quickly. It was almost hard for me to keep track of all of the places Wright lived and with whom he stayed.

While I admire Wright for having strong values and the strength to be able to combat the stereotypes of that time period, some parts of the book, such as Wright’s experience of being beaten as a young child, were a little too disturbing for my taste.

Senior Books

Favorite: “The Kite Runner” – Khaled Hosseini

This book claims the spot for my favorite book this year. It tells the story of Amir, the son of a wealthy and well-respected businessman, and his struggle to redeem himself.

Young Amir and his father, Baba, live in a large mansion in the center of Kabul, Afghanistan. Baba’s best friend and servant, Ali, and Ali’s son, Hassan, live with them.

At some points I was frustrated and angry at how Amir treated Hassan even though Hassan did nothing wrong.

I reached a point where I wanted to stop reading the book because Amir was so disrespectful, but I am so happy I pushed myself to get through that part because the rest of the book made me fall in love with it.

Least Favorite: “Montana 1948” – Larry Watson

The main character is a pre-teen named David Hayden, who lives with his parents, Gail and Wes, and their Sioux housekeeper, Marie Little Soldier, in the small town of Bentrock, Montana.

David’s dad happens to be the chief sheriff of the town, Bentrock, where nothing ever happens, until a man is accused of sexually assaulting a woman. It turns out that this man is David’s uncle and the woman just so happens to be Marie.

This is not a very long  book, and it just felt kind of empty to me. It almost felt as if there wasn’t much substance to the book. I think it has its moments, but I like books that move at a little bit of a quicker pace.