A Teen Reflection on Assigned Summer Reading Lists
GrubStreet’s Working in the Arts Summer Fellowship (WITA) provides young writers with job experience working in the arts. Over the course of the summer, Fellows support GrubStreet’s YAWP program, receive mentorship, and gain access to other working artists. In this post, WITA Fellow Jola Laguda reflects on the idea of the assigned summer reading list and offers a new list of books based on input from current teen writers at GrubStreet.
So you’ve slept and partied another summer away, and the back to school ads play back-to-back on TV. They promise a year of dance choreographed fun and laughter, but you know that the first day of classes will probably go something like this:
You enter the building and reacclimate to a new schedule, catch up with friends about summer shenanigans, and speculate on how the year will go.
Then your English teacher (that you’ve only known a whole 15 minutes) gazes around the room of well-dressed students and utters the dreaded words, “Summer. Reading. Test.”
The room buzzes with mixed reactions ranging from fear to nonchalance. Murmurs fill the gaping silence of the room.
“It was that book, what was it called?”
“It’s called A Midsummer Night’s Dream...”
“This test is about to be a mid-day nightmare.”
“Wait, guys, we had summer reading?”
It’s the same test year after year. Did you or did you not read. If you did not (or forgot major plots or characters), you are penalized. The zero sits heavy as a boulder in the gradebook and hangs over the first term like a bad omen. And you sit cursing that one kid that got an “A” without touching the book.
This narrative is one we teens in the public school system know too well, and it is honestly a narrative we are sick of repeating like clockwork.
I asked teens in the GrubStreet community their thoughts on the list of books assigned during summer readings. Despite the mandatory test, they had some pretty positive things to say. To them, mandatory summer readings usher feelings of excitement and novelty despite the dread of the looming examination. As a writing-based group, we may be biased when we say we positively receive summer reading assignments. For one, summer reading lists take us out of our comfort zones.
“We read a whole buttload of YA novels,” said one teen. And why not? Young Adult novels tentatively hold our (short) attention spans like no other genre could truly do. We find then that reading lists become important in breaking us out of our YA habit. They contain a list of books we probably would never have read ourselves and, in turn, they introduce us to brand new literary devices.
Assigned summer reading books like A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time taught us how to create subtexts and craft subtleties, The Hobbit taught us symbolism, and Outliers taught us the beauty of non-fiction narrative.
As young adults, these types of books introduce us to a more diverse literary world. Mandatory summer readings also help maintain student performance over a summer of “working hard and playing hard” as one teen puts it.
Our teen community sees the benefit of keeping our academic skills sharp over the summer. “We definitely want to start off on the right foot when school starts again,” said one teen.
For any English teachers reading, here’s a full list of books the teens at GrubStreet recommended for captivating summer reading:
- Paper Towns by John Green
- Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
- The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare
- 1984 by George Orwell
- A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
- Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
- 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
- The Outsiders by S.E Hinton
- The Poet X by Elizabeth Agevedo
- Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
- Cirece by Madeline Miller
- Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury
- The Divergent series by Veronica Roth
- The Giver by Lois Lowry
We also have solutions to improve the mandatory tests and essays given for summer reading. Some of the improvements we brainstormed included:
- Choosing one New York Times bestseller book to assign each year. (The more hyped it is, the better!)
- Instead of a formal test or essay, we should have debates on the plots and characters. (This will also get us more comfortable with the students we will be spending the rest of the year with.)
- Introduce creative writing prompts that coincide with the plots and literary devices of the book.
In the meantime, we will keep listening to the same back to school advertisements and resent the reading tests that await us on the other side of summer.
Jola is a Quincy High graduate about to major in international law and linguistics at UMASS Amherst. She loves poetry and dystopian novels. If she’s not talking about foreign languages and destinations, she’s definitely talking about the latest memes.See other articles by Jola Laguda