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Ranking Required Reading

Hey, it’s Sabrina!  As much as this post may seem like a bunch of books that are examples of “Things I Want To Read Less Of”, it is not.  Today I’m “ranking” all the books I had to read in high school and talking a little bit about what I remember of them.  It’s been a decent number of years since I’ve been in high school, but I still have strong feelings about a lot of these books. Warning: high levels of ranting ahead and also some hidden spoilers discussing awful graphic scenes.


Cloudstreet by Tim Winton – Year Twelve

Who in their right mind decided to assign a 500+ page book for Year Twelve students to study?  I just want to have a few words with them.  This book was a nightmare to get through.  It took place over decades and almost nothing exciting ever happened, and if when did, it was written in the most boring way possible.  It was also pretentious enough to eliminate all its quotation marks, so you could never tell if people were having a conversation and if so, who exactly was speaking.  And it featured war.  Hooray.

Furthermore:There were graphic descriptions of female body parts which were ultimately very uncomfortable to read – a poor old lady was grieving and all the author could talk about were parts of her ‘flapping’. I also remember the description of a child being hit by a train (the word ‘watermelon’ was used). There was definitely more violence, but I can’t remember it clearly enough to mention.


The Gathering by Isobelle Carmody – Year Nine

As much as this book caused me deep mental distress, it was very gripping.  Don’t get me wrong, it deserves its place here in the rankings and I wish I’d never read it, but at least it had the mystery aspect going for it.  It follows a boy who moves to a new town and new school which is apparently cursed.  The town smells bad because it contains an abattoir.  The book just gives off a really bad vibe and it made me feel physically ill.  Not to mention, it scarred me for life – see more about that in the hidden section below.


I credit this book with stopping me from listening to music while reading because some pop hit was playing in my ears while I was hysterically crying after the main character’s pet dog was burned alive in front of him, in his own backyard, by the school bullies.  And then his mum found the poor dog’s body and blamed the main character!?!?

We also had an attempted suicide, the burning alive of a teacher (or was it a janitor?), the whole abattoir thing AND an unsatisfying ending that did not clear up all the mysteries.


Brooklyn by Colm Toibin – Year Twelve

As a result of WWII, the main character, Eilis, moves from Ireland to America to make a life for herself despite not wanting to.  Eilis has next to no agency in the story, and almost everything that happens to her is decided for her.  I remember a few parts of this book: two spoilery things and also that the Eilis bought some stockings once.  The synopsis tells me that she receives “devastating news from Ireland [that] threatens the promise of her future” but I could not tell you what that news was.


One scene I remember is Eilis going to purchase some swimwear.  She is trying it on, and the store attendant – a woman – keeps trying to peek at her.  I remember the class discussing this, and people were feeling sorry for the store attendant because she was presumably a lesbian which in their eyes made it okay for her to invade Eilis’ privacy… I did not agree.

Oh, and the main character cheated on the guy she was engaged to.


Elli: Coming of Age in the Holocaust by Livia Bitton-Jackson – Year Ten

This book is a non-fiction autobiography.  So when I say I hate this book, it is not the author’s fault but history’s.  It was terribly graphic and to know that everything in this book really happened to the author – it is really just something else.  I’m not going to talk about all the disturbing scenes from this one because I’m sure you can imagine for yourself.  I struggled to read it because of how detailed and depressing it was, and I remember my mum taking away my other books and my laptop so that I couldn’t do anything but finish it.

Goodnight Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian – Year Eight

I didn’t care for this book in the beginning, but by the end I found myself very emotional and actually caring for the characters.  It’s again a book set during WWII, but at its centre is a relationship between an old man and a young boy, forced to live together, which is quite heartwarming amongst the horror.

Spoilers: Unfortunately, on top of the war, the young boy has an incredibly abusive mother. The best friend he makes during his time away is presumed to have been killed in the war near the end of the book. There is a baby which dies as well – in a terrible way. I was in tears long before this book was over.

Parvana by Deborah Ellis – Year Seven

I guess this book isn’t necessarily set during a specific war, but it is set in Afghanistan under the control of the Taliban.  I did actually enjoy this when I read it, and even went on to read the sequel.  Of course, terrible things happened (because, war) and I still think about those to this day.

Possibly spoilers, definitely disturbing: Parvana needs to take a job collecting bones for her family, if I remember correctly. And, I’m unsure as to whether this happened in the sequel or the original, but there was a character that I loved that was killed by a landmine. She didn’t die right away and there was an awful scene of her telling her last words to Parvana, with descriptions of how her body looked at that point.

The Quiet American by Graham Greene – Year Twelve

Honestly, I can barely remember anything about this book about war in Vietnam.  I remember that I didn’t hate it, but I wasn’t keen on the “romance”.  And there was something to do with bicycles, maybe? It was at least much better than the other two books I had to read during my final year in high school.


Letters From The Inside by John Marsden – Year Nine

This was a really short book featuring teenage penpals, written by the author of Tomorrow When the War Began. I know nothing about that series even though there’s been multiple film and tv show adaptations, and it’s because of Letters From The Inside that I refuse to learn.  Everything else I have to say is spoilers.

Be prepared:One of the girls is in prison, and we never find out why, which is strangely not the only reason the ending was unsatisfying! The girl in prison has a vivid dream about guns and blood and never gets another reply from the other girl, so it appears that her brother snapped and killed her and her family (there is lead up to this, so it’s a reasonable assumption). It was a really dark ending that made me very unhappy.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon – Year Eleven

This is a sad, but also hopeful, book about a boy with Asperger syndrome (at least, that is what I was told in school – I’m sorry if that is not the correct term) and complicated relationships with his parents.  As well as the mystery of a dog that has been murdered.  This wasn’t a slog to get through, which is a win compared to a lot of the rest of these books.

Romeo and Juliet – Year Ten

Can you believe I didn’t know the ending of this until I studied it for school?

Macbeth – Year Eleven

I found this really creepy, but I actually liked it – when I could understand what was going on.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – Year Ten

I can’t remember anything about this book except that the main character reminded me of my grandma and someone had a broken arm once.


Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose – Year Eleven

This play about the American legal system was short and sweet and I truly enjoyed it.

Does My Head Look Big In This by Randa Abdel-Fattah – Year Eight

This was my first experience reading a book about a young Muslim teenager, and it came at the right time for me, because I was not at all familiar with Islam before going into it.  I thought it was funny and that the main character was relatable.  I’m not sure how I would feel about it now though, having read some of the reviews.

Millie and the Night Heron by Catherine Bateson – Year Seven

I couldn’t tell you a single thing about this book now.  I just remember that I liked it, and I don’t think there was any graphic violence – a win, but also expected for Year Seven.


Lord of the Flies by William Golding – Year Ten

Thank you Sparknotes for getting me through this trying time.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis – Year Seven

Unfortunately, I think I would have actually liked this book if I’d decided to read it.  But I had already seen the movie and thought it would be a waste of my time.  Plus, of course, it had a bit to do with war and at twelve years old, that was already putting me off books.

What do you think?

Have you read any of these books?  Did you enjoy many books you were required to read for school?  Would you like to rant about any of them in the comments?  Go ahead!

31 thoughts on “Ranking Required Reading

  1. Omg the only book I read here is To Kill a Mockingbird, which was so long ago (probably when I was in the 8th or 9th grade when I read it). Like you I can’t remember much about the story because it was so long ago. Many HS books I was required to read were admittedly boring hahaha so I understand the frustration 🙂

    Jillian @ Jillian’s Books

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is an interesting post! I’ve read a few of these books, mostly the Shakespeare ones and Parvana. My school used to love having us read Deborah Ellis books in elementary school. I guess they have inspiring messages. But now I wonder why the only books we ever read about Muslim girls had to be them in war-torn, miserable situations.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Haha this is such a great idea! 😆 Since I’m homeschooled, my mom always assigned books I was interested in as a kid, and required reading isn’t so awful for me? I had to read The Scarlet Letter for a lit class though, which was rough.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oddly enough, I only read the two you had not read. Narnia I read on my own, as a kid. I read Lord of the Flies twice in school. Once in 10th grade English and again, for my film class. I like the book, and even saw the play.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Yesss SparkNotes saved my life too many times!
    I read To Kill a Mockingbird before the class so I didn’t have to reanalyse it, thankfully.
    I didn’t really like war books at school either.
    Letters from the Inside was such a difficult book for me to get into!
    Why do schools always make reading difficult?
    – Emma 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. required reading can really be the worst but this is such a creative post idea to put together.

    Cloudstreet sounds like an absolute HORROR to read, i can’t imagine why you’d have to read that but it’s making me sick just to think about it. 🤢 all the war books sound so gruesome and gory WHY ARE THEY SO GRAPHIC omg what kind of required reading is this?? im so sorry you had to go through this multiple times

    i had to read a curious incident of the dog for school too!! i felt similarly, i thought the story was more interesting than the other required reading i had to do. it wasn’t a favourite but i did enjoy seeing the world from the main character’s eyes and trying to solve the mystery. i REALLY REALLY want to read ‘does my head look big in this’ some time soon. i’ve read the author’s other work and while it wasn’t my favourite it also wasn’t as bad as some muslim rep i’ve seen. so im really interested to see how that turns out

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It can be! Thanks May!

      Cloudstreet really was awful! Lol, thank you for your sympathy 😛

      I totally agree about Curious Incident of the Dog etc. and I hope you get to read Does My Head Look Big In This at some point! I can’t remember too much about it at this point, but I do want to pick up more from the author.


  7. These have got to be the worst required reading that I’ve ever heard about/seen. Why would they put you through that??? Wow. I’m going to stop complaining about my required reading now…

    I’m so sorry you had to go through so many horrible books so many times! There’s absolutely no reason for it to be so graphic and horror inducing, and I really felt your pain. I’ve actually only read 3 books on here: Lord of the Flies (i really should have used Sparknotes or searched it up and read main points because I still seriously hate and remember that book. I can’t wrap my head around it especially the fact that X died and he did in such a horrible gruesome way as well. That was horrible and sad), Romeo and Juliet (….idk what to say about it. It was Shakespeare so 🤷🏽‍♀️) and Does My Head Look Big in This? (I actually read Does My Head Look Big In This? outside of school, and it was okay tbh. There were parts that annoyed me, but it wasn’t bad).

    This was such an interesting post to read ❤✨ Hopefully you won’t have to read such horrible books again!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lol, I certainly wondered the same thing on more than one occasion. I’m sure your required reading is probably pretty bad too – it seems to be a common experience among everyone :’)

      I appreciate the sympathy 😛 I’m glad to find another person who doesn’t like Lord of the Flies – everyone else seems to love it! It was a horrible way for that character to die. I love your reaction to Romeo and Juliet, haha. And do you remember what parts of Does My Head Look Big in This? annoyed you? I have forgotten so much about it.

      Thanks Rukky!! ❤ I sure hope so too!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. For DMHLBIT, I think it was just mostly Amal’s relationship with Adam (i think that was his name smh 😂). Just the way it was handled I think. I’ve honestly forgotten as well, but I feel like there was this place where she said no to something with him based on her beliefs and then later came back and did what she originally said no to anyway. I might be mixing it up with a different book, I’m not sure, but I think it was that and just their relationship in general 🙃

        Liked by 1 person

  8. There are so many books that I’ve never even heard of!! I read To Kill a Mockingbird for required reading, and I loved it! I actually just read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime like last month 😂

    12 Angry Men was one of my favorites to read! I remember reading it in middle school and then after our teacher let us watch the movie, definitely one of the better days of class 😂

    But oh gosh there were so many terrible books I had to read for required reading. Most of the bad ones were in elementary school since by the time I got to high school they started getting a little bit better. I think the worst ones were the boring ones because I could never understand why we were forced to read them. Great post, this was so much fun to read!! 💕💕

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We did have to read some obscure books! Glad to hear you enjoyed To Kill a Mockingbird!

      Ooh yes I got to watch the 12 Angry Men movie in class too!

      I’m glad that your required reading started getting better by high school – boring books do make it really hard to study. Thank you Chana!! ❤


  9. My sister really enjoyed Does my head look big in this and has been recomending it to me since. You had to read so many war books! I love that you were Romeo and Juliet innocent before reading the play. That is one of the most spoiled books in history ahaha. I am glad you enjoyed it though, and Macbeth too. They’re not my favourite Shakespeares but they are school staples and pretty good. I love that you skipped over Lord of the Flies. I didn’t have to read The Lion the Witch and The Wardrobe but I read it by choice and liked it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh really!? I hope you give it a go some day 🙂
      There were a lot of war books, you’re right!
      Romeo and Juliet is definitely one of the most spoiled books! I have no idea how I managed to miss all the spoilers :’) I’ll have to check out some more Shakespeare if you say there are better ones than those.
      I’m glad you enjoyed The Lion the Witch and The Wardrobe! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  10. well, from this post i can tell that you got assigned a LOT more required reading than i was 😂 you also got assigned a lot of things that make me question what your school administrators were thinking! why would they assign you to read graphic things like that?? I’m appalled!
    i got assigned Macbeth too, and WOW i relate to that “when i could understand it” part. i’m sorry, but i hate Shakespeare’s way of writing :(( and i mostly didn’t care for Macbeth because my teacher was so boring, haha.
    AND, AHH, the most recent book i got assigned to read is Lord of the Flies! ugh, i would’ve preferred to reading anything else, honestly. it was NOT fun to read about a bunch of white boys going crazy on an island. we actually had two exams on Lord of the Flies, and I actually read the book for the first exam, but i gave up and used sparknotes when the second exam came. you know what’s funny? i scored higher in the second exam than i did in the first 😂😂 (lesson learned: actually reading the required reading is a scam)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh really!? I didn’t think I had that much reading assigned! I totally agree that a lot of the choices were questionable, to say the least! I’m glad you’re appalled and I’m not just overreacting, aha.
      It really sucks when you get a boring teacher for english – they can really make or break your experience of a book. I understand hating Shakespeare’s way of writing 😂 It’s so much work just to make sense of it a lot of the time!
      “A bunch of white boys going crazy on an island” is the perfect way to describe Lord of the Flies and honestly… if you know that, I don’t think you need to read it. Two exams on one book is a bit ridiculous!! But congratulations on going better in the second exam, lol. Yep – reading the required reading can definitely be a scam, lol 😂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. LOL “it was also pretentious enough to eliminate all of its quotation marks” 😂. But honestly, that book sounds brutal. Stories that span generations like that are usually misses for me 😕.
    This was a really neat post, Sabrina! Most of these books weren’t required reading for me, so it’s interesting to see you talk about them! It looks like I’m not missing much though 😅. (You seriously had to read about so much war 😮.) However, The Curious Incident of the Dog is something I’m familiar with and still want to read 😄!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am the same with stories that span generations – I’m glad I’m not the only one. Also since writing this post I have actually read and enjoyed other books that eliminate quotation marks so I don’t know what to think now 😭
      Thank you Belle! I’m sorry it’s taken so long to reply. You definitely weren’t missing much by not reading these books! So much war! I hope you enjoy The Curious Incident etc. if you get around to it one day 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  12. OMG, I HATED Cloudstreet. So much. I never ended up finishing it, and it turned me off all of Tim Winton’s books from that point on. (To be fair I think I’d only read the Lochie Leonard series until this point.)
    Please don’t let The Gathering turn you off Isobelle Carmody. Obernewtyn is one of my favourite dystopian stories, and even though it took like 3 decades to be published, which means there’s a couple of little story inconsistencies in the intro to each book I still love it a lot.
    Can I just say that as someone who not only read Letters From the Inside, but also other creepy Marsden books (like Dear Miffy – never read that. Ever.), you’re not missing out on much. I did love the Tomorrow series when I was younger, but I have no idea how they would hold up over time, and to be honest, given Marsden’s recent public statements on children who are bullied, I wouldn’t recommend anything he writes anymore anyway.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sorry you had to suffer through Cloudstreet too 😱 Yes, I will never pick up another Tim Winton book either!
      I’m interested to hear that about Isobelle Carmody though – I think I actually own the first Obernewtyn book (if I’m right, it was in a hand-me-down box given to my family years ago – I don’t want to sound like I buy books and then forget about them, haha). I’ll have to give it a go since you love it that much.
      Okay, you have officially convinced me not to bother with Marsden again! I’ve just looked up some of those statements, and wow… 😶
      Thanks for your comment, Meeghan! Sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Totally fine!! Take as much time as you need!! 💕
        I hope you give Obernewtyn a try. It’s one of my all-time fave dystopian books – and I don’t tend to like a lot of dystopian!! You can kind of tell when she took a 10 year break in the middle, but the story is still so amazing.

        Liked by 1 person

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