“A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings” by Gabriel García Márquez
This work is actually a short story, not a novel, but I couldn’t leave it out of this list! It’s a tale of a mysterious angel who is discovered by a rural family. It’s a work of magical realism. As far as I can remember, this is the first magical realism piece I ever read, and, as a huge fan of fantasy (which the genre is most similar to), I loved this aspect of the piece! There were other strange elements to it that I adored too (I distinctly recall a woman with a spiders body in one scene). If you are looking for an interesting and imaginative story that won’t take more than half an hour to read, I highly recommend this Marquez piece!
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
It’s been years since I read Where the Red Fern Grows, but this is a book that I reread multiple times after I first experienced it in sixth grade. Most people have probably read this book for school, and those of us who have are likely severely emotionally damaged from it. I distinctly remember the ending scene in which the protagonist reflects on the lives of his dogs—and yes, it one-hundred percent made me bawl like a baby. I recall this book being very well-written and meaningful. I feel like everyone can find some aspect or theme of this novel to relate to.
Animal Farm by George Orwell
If I had to choose an all-time favorite book that I’ve read for a class, George Orwell’s Animal Farm would probably take the cake. I read it in eighth grade, the first piece of satire I recall reading, and fourteen-year-old me definitely didn’t appreciate the novel as much as I did years later when I reread it as a college student. As a middle-schooler, I liked the clever side of using farm animals to personify historical figures and to spread a strong political message against Stalinism and the Soviet Union, but I was not yet knowledgeable enough about history to fully comprehend it. Now, as an adult, I so appreciate the politics and deeper meanings of the novel. This is book is super short too. A dedicated reader could pretty easily read it in one sitting. It’s certainly entertaining, interesting, and well-paced enough to allow a person to do just that!
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Life of Pi is a book that many people seem to dislike, so I feel the need to talk about how much I enjoyed this novel. Contrary to the popular consensus, I did not find this book boring. At all. There are certainly scenes that are dry and slower paced, but there were always interesting ideas to think about, keeping me interested. The experience of reading this book was certainly enhanced by having great discussions about it in the class I read it for. There are a lot of really interesting themes, and the struggle of the protagonist is portrayed very well (and heartbreakingly). I love that there is a lot of ambiguity to the ending of the book that makes you question what is reality and what is fantasy in the narrator’s mind. And by the way, if you have seen the movie adaptation of Life of Pi, it is quite different from the book, so I would recommend giving it a read even if you have watched the film.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
I feel like this one is a shoe-in. An obvious choice. I have never talked to a person who doesn’t like this beloved classic. I’ve only read it once, in ninth grade, but I know for a fact that this is a book I will reread (likely many times) in my life. There is really nothing new I can add to the discussion of how good this novel is; I feel that everything has already been said a million times….It has everything going for it, including beautifully drawn and endearing characters (Atticus Finch will forever be one of my favorite literary characters), and a great plot and meaningful social commentary.