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.
BURN IT WITH FIRE
✨ 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.
I WOULD BURN IT BUT I AM AFRAID IT WOULD CURSE ME
✨ 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.
IT WAS JUST BORING
✨ 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.
WHY I HATE ‘WAR BOOKS‘
✨ 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.
INTERESTING BUT MESSED UP
✨ 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.
I ACTUALLY LIKED THESE AND HAVE NO COMPLAINTS
✨ 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.
I DIDN’T READ THEM, SO I CAN’T RANK THEM
✨ 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!