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Classic Novels for Teens

10 Classic American Novels for High School Students

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Summer is a great time to introduce teens to some classic novels and prepare them for the books they'll be studying during high school. Give your teen a head start by checking out some of these classic American novels for high school students. All of them are recommended for ages 14 and up.

1. To Kill A Mockingbird

Cover Art for To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
HarperCollins

This beloved American classic set in Macomb County, Alabama during the Depression is a story about a small town dealing with the issues of class and prejudice.  Scout Finch, 8, and her brother Jem, 10, learn lessons about love and humanity from their father Atticus and from other memorable characters. Written in 1960 by Harper Lee, this book has won numerous awards including the 1961 Pulitzer Prize and has been listed by the Library School Journal as one of the “Best Books of the 20th Century”. (Harperluxe, 2010. ISBN: 9780061980268)

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2. Lord of the Flies

Cover Art of Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Riverside

An airplane evacuating school boys from Britain during World War II is shot down over a remote tropical area. Two boys, Ralph and Piggy, find the other surviving boys and begin to organize the group. As time passes rivalries are formed, rules are broken and civilized behavior has turned savage. This is a classic study on human nature, adolescence, and competition by William Golding. (Riverside, 2003.  ISBN: 9781573226127)

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3. A Separate Peace

Cover Art for A Separate Peace by John Knowles
Scribner

A friendship forms between two boys attending a New England boarding school during World War II. Gene, smart and socially awkward, draws the attention of Phineas, a handsome, athletic and outgoing boy. The two become friends, but war and rivalry lead to a tragic accident. John Knowles is the author of this classic story about friendship and adolescence.  (Scribner, 2003. ISBN: 9780743253970)

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4. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Cover Art for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Penguin Classics

Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer’s best friend, stakes out his own adventure in this classic coming of age tale.  Tired of trying to be good and fearful of his drunken father, Huck Finn runs away and takes Jim, an escaped slave, with him. Together they sail down the Mississippi River on a raft and experience dangerous as well a comical adventures along the way. (Penguin Classics, 2002. ISBN: 9780142437179)

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5. The Old Man and the Sea

Cover Art of The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
Scribner

Using only 27,000 words, Ernest Hemingway’s shortest novel depicts the classic struggle of an old Cuban fisherman who hasn’t caught a fish in 84 days. With courage and determination the elderly man goes out on his small boat one more time. Although simple in its telling, this is a story of never giving up and living life to the fullest. (Scribner, 1996. ISBN: 9780684830490)

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6. Of Mice and Men

Cover Art of  Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Penguin Group

Best friends Lennie and George travel from farm to farm in California looking for work while trying to avoid trouble.  Although both men are good workers and have dreams of owning their own farm, they never stay at one job long because of Lennie. Lennie is a simple minded gentle giant who doesn’t know his own strength and often gets into trouble. When tragedy strikes, George must make an awful decision that will alter the plans he and Lennie have made for their future. This is a classic Steinbeck story about migrant workers and the downtrodden surviving the Great Depression. (Penguin,  2002. ISBN: 9780142000670)

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7. The Scarlet Letter

Cover Art for The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Penguin

Set in 17th century Massachusetts, a young married woman living in a Puritan colony becomes pregnant and refuses to name the father. Hester Prynne, the strong heroine of this American classic by Nathaniel Hawthorne, must endure prejudice and hypocrisy from a society who demands she be punished by wearing a scarlet letter "A" upon her dress. This novel is an in-depth look at morality, guilt, and sin and is a must read for every high school student. (Penguin Classics, 2003. ISBN: 9780142437261)

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8. The Great Gatsby

Cover Art of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
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James Gatz from North Dakota reinvents himself as the self assured and wealthy Jay Gatsby as he tries to win the love of his childhood sweetheart Daisy Buchanan. Set in the Jazz Age of the 1920s, Gatsby and his friends are blinded by the glitz and glamour of wealth and learn too late of its inability to bring them true happiness. Author F. Scott Fitzgerald’s greatest novel is a classic study of the Gilded Age and one man’s corrupted view of the American dream. (Turtleback Books, 2004. ISBN: 9781417656639)

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9. The Call of the Wild

Cover Art for The Call of the Wild by Jack London
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Buck, part St. Bernard part Scotch Shepherd , is abducted from his comfortable life in California and forced to endure the arctic cold of the Yukon territory as a sled dog. Set in the midst of the Alaskan gold rush, this classic novel is the story of one dog’s survival of beatings, starvation, and frigid temperatures. (Broadview Press, 2009. ISBN: 9781551118444)

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10. 1984

Cover Art for 1984 by George Orwell
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Big Brother is watching. This American classic written in 1948 by George Orwell is about a dystopian society ruled by a controlling government. When Winston Smith attempts to retain his humanity and secretly thwart the government, he discovers who is a friend and who is an enemy.  This American classic is a fascinating and disturbing look at society and government. (Addison-Wesley, Longman, 2003. ISBN: 9780582777316)

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