Top Ten High School Favorites from Former Students by Sarah Krajewski and some of her former students
Reading is an enormous part of my 9th grade classroom. Students cannot get around it. Thousands of books circle them on all sides, with the newest and most popular displayed proudly. I’m thrilled with how much I can encourage my students to read, but I am in my glory when former students—10th, 11th, 12th graders, and yes, even a few graduates—come back to borrow books. In the words of Donalyn Miller, those are my “wild readers,” and each year I have more than the last.
Over the years, I have learned to recommend “favorites” from years past in my first book chats of the year, but now there are just so many. Book trailers and book chats are the norm in my classroom now, but it wasn’t always that way. I have John Green fanatics, zombie fans, and romantics at heart (boys too!), but no particular book became a “favorite” by many until a student named Victoria shared a book with her English 9 Honors class: Butter by Erin Jade Lange. Her book chat showed me the true power a chat can have on an audience. I haven’t stopped the chats and trailers since. The ten books below are some of the most popular books that were loved by countless students over the past year. Please enjoy some of my students’ reviews of their favorites.
#1: Butter by Erin Jade Lange – review written by Victoria
When I first picked up Butter by Erin Jade Lange out of the bookshelves of the public library, I looked it over, read the description on the inside of the book jacket, and put it back. After all, how would I ever connect to a morbidly obese teenage guy? A week or so later, I was back at the library looking for more books to read. So, I reluctantly checked out Butter and took it home. When I began to read it, I immediately became engrossed in the plot line and couldn’t put it down. Despite not being anything like the main character, whose nickname was Butter, or knowing anyone who is like him, I could somehow relate. I could relate to his loneliness and his need for music he could escape into. I could relate to Butter’s rash decision-making skills. Most of all, I could relate to his need to be loved and cared for by others. I grew to care for Butter, laughing at his wit and growing scared for him as his plan began to take shape. I genuinely cared about what decision he would make. And while reading, things that we have been told so many times by adults and authority figures became more realistic and had realistic applications. Things like, “Don’t get yourself into situations so far over your head that you don’t have a way to get out again” and the ever-present cliché, “Don’t change yourself or do something you wouldn’t normally do in order to be liked by others.” There is one more thing I have to say about Butter. I have read a lot of books. I don’t even remember the titles of half of the books I read over one year ago. But two years ago, I read Butter, and to this day I remember the entire plot. I can’t even do that for the majority of my favorite books. Butter is truly worth a try.
Teacher’s note: Victoria gave a “book talk” for Butter in her 9th grade class, other English classes last year when she was a sophomore, and will hopefully share it with my current freshmen as a junior. Because of her book talks, Butter is always one of the most popular books with my students.
#2: The Fault In Our Stars by John Green – review written by Emily
My favorite book from last year was The Fault In Our Stars by John Green. It is a great story of a boy and a girl who fall in love, while both being diagnosed with different forms of cancer. The book was realistic, and, while reading, I became so attached to the characters. Both the main characters, Hazel and Augustus, had such outgoing personalities; they made it very easy to relate. The book was so descriptive, with every detail and scene playing out right before me. I read this book in only one week because I simply could never put it down! I wanted to know what would happen next to the two lovers. I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to read something they’ll never forget.
#3: Looking for Alaska by John Green – review written by Anonymous
At the beginning of my freshmen year, I was not a fan of reading at all. Throughout the year, because of Independent Reading (IR), I began to have a new love for books. One of the most memorable books I read was Looking for Alaska by John Green. Looking for Alaska is about a young man going into his first year of college. The young man, nicknamed Pudge, enters college not exactly knowing who he is or where he belongs. Because he is this way, he is easily peer pressured by his friends to do things he may not want to do. Pudge makes some bad decisions in college, but he knows for sure that befriending Alaska Young was no mistake. Pudge loves Alaska. He is willing to do anything and everything for the girl who already has a boyfriend, unaware of the feelings Pudge has for her. The only thing Pudge really wants is love from Alaska, but a tragic, unbelievable reality hits him, forcing Pudge to release his feelings. John Green created the perfect tragic love story using ingenious techniques and a unique storyline. This powerful story is a definite must read for freshmen year Independent Reading.
#4: Legend trilogy by Marie Lu – review written by Olyvia
Over my years of book reading, I have read a lot of great books; however, some of my favorites have to be the Legend trilogy by Marie Lu. First off, I enjoyed the two different perspectives. They are told from the sides of a criminal and a smart, beautiful girl. By telling the story in two different ways, it gives the reader empathy for the criminal and it makes it easier to fall in love with the characters. Another reason I loved this trilogy is because of the action. Before I had read this book, I had only read romance novels, but these books made me want to read more action books. However, the books aren’t overwhelmingly action-packed; they still have a little love in them. The last reason I loved these books so much was because of the setting in the future. Personally, I enjoy sci-fi books, so I loved that they took place in a different time. They just make you think, what if this really could happen? I enjoyed Legend and the other two books so much that I decided to buy the whole series. I hope you will decide to read and enjoy them, too!
#5: Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare – review written by Jacob
William Shakespeare was quite a talented and educated artist of his time. He has written many well-known pieces that are still read and focused on today. One my favorites is Romeo and Juliet. Romeo and Juliet is a well-told story about compassion, despair, love, and betrayal. In my honest opinion, this combination is quite amazing. The plot, dialogue, and tone is just what you would expect from a timely classic that touches the heart and soul of anyone who would pick it up and scroll through it’s ancient pages. As “a reader,” I really enjoyed the setting and time period. As an “actor” in class, I had fun! Shakespeare’s language is just so memorable, so it’s hard to put this classic down. As a writer myself, I can appreciate Shakespeare’s play as the wonderful writing piece that it is. Overall, Romeo and Juliet ranks near the top of my favorite pieces of literature.
#6: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown – review written by Jayla
One of my favorite books is The Da Vinci Code. When I read it, I fell in love. What began as a murder mystery quickly became so much more. It was exciting, humorous, and intellectual all at the same time. Every page kept me at the end of my seat. I especially loved the incorporation of the real monuments, places, and references to historical figures, such as Leonardo Da Vinci, as protagonist Robert Langdon flew around Europe. I picked it up not knowing what to expect, and was blown away. Now, Dan Brown is one of my favorite authors. There’s nothing like a good book that can take you on an adventure!
#7: Perfect by Ellen Hopkins – review written by Natalie
I read quite a few books last year as a freshman, but one that really stands out is Perfect by Ellen Hopkins. This book is about two girls named Cara and Kendra who both want to be perfect in some way. One wants the perfect body, and the other wants to be free to make the decisions that she wants. I think all students can relate to a book like this. I would recommend this book, or really any of Ellen Hopkins’ books, because of the drama and intense real-life situations. I love that this book is written in verse, and I finished it in just a few days. There was so much detail, and it kept me interested. If you are looking for a great page-turner about what high school students go through, I suggest reading Perfect.
#8: Beta by Rachel Cohn – review written by Paige
My favorite book that I read last year is Beta by Rachel Cohn. The genre of the book is fantasy, and it’s set in the future. One reason why I liked this book is because it incorporated cyborgs. The main character in this book, Elysia, is the first teen Beta (clone) ever sold on the market. Throughout the whole story, Elysia is basically trying to find out the real her, as well as who had to die in order for her to be created. This book is very captivating and the characters are easily relatable, even though they are not all human. It is definitely a great book to read!
#9: Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller – review written by Hoai
Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller was my one of my favorite books to read because it seemed so realistic and it was very touching. What the main character, Callie, had to go through and how she handled things made me feel like I was like living her life with her. Doller knew how to hold my attention, and put me through an emotional roller coaster even though I am just a reader! She captured the actual feelings and thoughts of a modern teen and turned it into this remarkable, unforgettable story. The story made me think: if Callie could go through this and work through it, I can practically work through anything in my way too. I believe it was truly inspirational and teaches teens in modern day not to take advantage and accept everything good around us; to accept what reality really is and work through any obstacle we have to face in life. Where the Stars Still Shine was truly an inspirational book that can never be forgotten with the lessons it has taught me.
#10: The Enemy by Charlie Higson – review written by Mike
I’m not much of a reader, but I love zombies! When I heard from a friend about The Enemy, I just had to try it. At first I was scared of the amount of pages, but I got over that quickly as soon as the action started. The Enemy is about a future time when people older than teens all got a “sickness.” That sickness turned them into zombies, so the only humans left were kids. The whole book is about kids trying to stay safe from the ones that want to eat them, so there is suspense from beginning to end. I loved this book enough that I chose to make my class book trailer about it, and I even recommended it to my older brother. You must read The Enemy!
As you can see above, my students enjoy quite a variety. I have students that stick with one genre all year, and others that try fiction and nonfiction alike. I myself have fallen in love with books that were recommended by my students. Without our book chats and trailers, who knows what type of readers I would have!
NOTE: I’d like to thank my former students for taking time out of their busy schedules to write these reviews. They were kind enough to complete them at the end of the first marking period of the school year, knowing that a grade was not involved. Much appreciated!
Sarah Krajewski is a dedicated 9th grade English teacher at a high school outside of Buffalo, New York. She has received the New York State English Council’s Program of Excellence award for a poetry unit she developed with another teacher using popular music, as well as NCTE’s Leadership Development Award, all before her fifth year of teaching. Sarah is in her thirteenth year of teaching, and is always looking for new, creative ways to help her students enjoy learning, reading, and writing. She is anxiously awaiting another trip to the NCTE Annual Convention to expand her literacy knowledge. At school, she is known for her dedication to her students and for being a devoted reader who “knows her books.” At home, she is a proud wife and mother to three avid readers. You can follow Sarah on Twitter @shkrajewski and her blog can be viewed at http://skrajewski.wordpress.com/.