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5 Books from High School English that I Actually Enjoyed

My high school English curriculum mainly centered around the same classic literature that pretty much every student in every high is forced to read. Some of them were good reads, but getting through others felt a little bit like pulling teeth. 

While the ones I truly enjoyed reading were few and far between, the great novels to which high school English class introduced me made reading all the other not-so-great ones worth it.

Here are the top five books from high school English class that I actually enjoyed.

Grendel by John Garnder

I’m a proud, self-proclaimed villain sympathizer. The antagonist is pretty much always my favorite character in any type of media, so Grendel was right up my alley.

Gardner’s twist on Beowulf portrays Grendel as a misunderstood creature, rather than the terrible monster the epic poem depicts him as.

As a big fan of the misunderstood villain trope, I loved seeing the classic retold from an alternate point of view that encouraged readers to empathize with the Beowulf character, rather than hate him.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

It’s no secret that Beloved is a phenomenal piece of literature, as Toni Morrison won a Pulitzer Prize for the novel in 1988. It’s critically acclaimed, captivating and complex.

Neither I nor the rest of the world can praise Toni Morrison’s Beloved enough. Nevertheless, I’ll restrain myself from gushing, as it’s one of those novels that’s difficult to talk about without giving too much away.

What I will say is that Beloved is a stunning, hair-raising book that is an absolute must-read.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Okay, not to be basic, but The Great Gatsby is my all-time favorite novel. I’m completely enamored with Fitzgerald’s writing in general, but what I found especially captivating about The Great Gatsby was his vivid description and use of color symbolism (the green light? *chef’s kiss*).

Plus, who doesn’t love a good social commentary?

The Stranger by Albert Camus

If The Great Gatsby is my favorite book, Camus’ The Stranger is an extremely close second.

I think that the best novels are ones that you still think about long after you’ve finished reading them, and that is certainly the case with The Stranger. The novel’s odd, paradoxical philosophy coupled with rampant nihilism is endlessly captivating.

The book’s argument that actions cannot have significance when the inevitability of death renders human life meaningless nullifies all significant attempts at analysis. Yet, I find myself still wanting to examine every complexity the book has to offer—much like when a child is told not to do something, but that just makes them want to do it even more.

Dante’s Inferno

Dante’s Inferno is a classic that I didn’t expect to love as much as I did. As someone who’s not a huge fan of epic poems, I was a bit skeptical about reading Inferno. But I’m an absolute sucker for religious symbolism, and Inferno appeals to that interest of mine among many others.

Once again, the fact that I still think about Inferno is proof of its impact. I saw Dante’s visualization of retributive justice—the image of an afterlife that complements one’s life on Earth—in each circle of Hell as denotative of religion’s propensity to console its followers with the idea that everyone eventually gets what they deserve. This idea that religion was something that offered comfort and a sense of retribution in the face existential uncertainty is something that really stuck with me.

Overall, Inferno enthralls readers with vivid imagery of retributive justice, and Dante’s journey through Hell builds up to a perfect ending (no spoilers here). While I may have been hesitant at first, Inferno has become one of my favorite pieces of literature.

My high school English classes included a couple of books that were difficult to get through. Regardless, my teachers made up for the not-so-great books by introducing me to several novels that deeply influenced my development as a writer.

I have to thank my high school English teachers for aiding my development. I was lucky enough to be taught by English teachers who not only helped me discover my passions for writing and literary analysis, but who also encouraged me to pursue those passions.

While some of the books in my high school’s curriculum may not have been my favorite, I’m endlessly grateful for the education I received and the wonderful teachers who taught me.

What were your favorite (or least favorite) assigned novels that you read in high school? Let us know on our socials! You can find us on Instagram and twitter @hercampusch, and on Facebook as Her Campus at Chapel Hill.

Madison Prentice

Chapel Hill '23

Madison is a first-year from Cary, North Carolina. She's an Advertising & Public Relations major with a minor in Spanish for Business. You can find her on Instagram at @mcprentice or on Twitter at @mcprentice8.
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