Just in time for the holiday season, we crowd-sourced a list of book recommendations from leaders and veteran tutors at AJ Tutoring. The only requirements were that the books be appropriate for high-school-aged readers, and that they not be books that regularly show up on high school reading lists.
Fiction and non-fiction, memoir and sci-fi―it’s all here. Take a look and find something new for your student (or you) to enjoy!
Freakonomics by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven Levitt
Recommended by Dipti Dedhia
Every time I read the news, it feels like the ability to understand data is a fundamental skill that many people in the US need to develop. This is an interesting take on data that makes you rethink motivations and cause/effect relationships. I’d highly recommend it as a fun read!
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Recommended by Sebastian von Zerneck
If you’re looking for a long read with lots of characters, complex story lines, and plot twists, this is a great next book to pick up! Become engrossed in the early 19th century world of small-town Middlemarch, where you’ll get to know the inner hopes and dreams of aspiring doctors, newly married couples, hopeless gambling addicts, and hidden power brokers. Eliot (a woman writing under a male pen name to avoid discrimination from publishers and readers) stands out for her ability to portray people who are always more than they seem, who don’t understand themselves well enough to lead perfect lives, and who are a mix of good and evil.
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
Recommended by Chelsea Greene
An exciting and fresh reworking of the classic Norse myths! I absolutely love the humor and relevance Gaiman brings to the stories of Asgard! The audio book is also read by Gaiman himself and you can tell how much passion he brought to this project.
As You Like It by William Shakespeare
Recommended by Sebastian von Zerneck
Although you probably read a Shakespeare play such as Macbeth, Othello, Hamlet, or Romeo and Juliet, this comedy should definitely be on your list! As You Like It stands out for it’s heroine, Rosalind, whose unparalleled intelligence, charm, and emotional EQ salvage a comically chaotic group of star-crossed lovers, warring brothers, and merry bands of forest-dwellers. Thanks to Rosalind, situations that normally end in tragedy transform into comedy. How does she do it? You’ll have to read to find out!
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Harari
Recommended by Jake Beech
How did modern humans come to be? This fun and easy-to-read book seeks to answer this question by tracing the last 70,000 years of our history and the key developments that set Homo sapiens apart. I found it incredibly interesting and learned something new on practically every page!
The Shadow of What Was Lost by James Islington
Recommended by Andrew Houghton
The Licanius Trilogy is really worth a read, and all 3 are available as audiobooks, too. They are set 20 years after a revolution that overthrew the ruling class of magic users, the Augurs. The lesser magic users, known as the Gifted, are now bound by magical laws to obey the Administrators―non-magical enforcers, many of whom fought against the Augurs and Gifted in the uprising.
Far to the north, a magical boundary has been keeping horrors at bay from sweeping over the land for thousands of years. But now, it is mysteriously failing, and only the Augurs can repair the damage to it. How will mankind overcome this threat, and can they do so before the barrier fails completely?
Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud
Recommended by Lee Miller
When I first read this in high school, it blew my mind. I wasn’t alone: McCloud’s brilliant perspective on the comics medium sparked a proliferation of comics-studies courses at universities, where it’s still used as a key textbook.
But a textbook, it is not. Understanding Comics is written as a comic about comics, which provides the perfect format for illustrating (literally) the endless possibilities the medium provides.
If you like comic books, graphic novels, or manga―or if you’re a comics-skeptic and interested in having your viewpoint changed―this fun, quick, mind-expanding read will be a rewarding one.
Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor
Recommended by Christina Coravos
James Nestor explains how we can transform our lives, simply by the way we breathe. By combining personal, historical, and scientific evidence, Nestor creates an engaging and entertaining read, with techniques you can apply right away. During the current respiratory pandemic, I enjoyed the benefits of this book on my physical and mental health and finished it within a couple days.
The Honey Bus by Meredith May
Recommended by Stephanie Simon
The Honey Bus tell the true story of a girl’s struggle with her family situation. May describes the redeeming value of her relationship to her step-grandfather, a bee-keeper in Carmel Valley, who, along with her mother and brother, lives with after her mother’s divorce. A young girl and teenager during the story’s time period, May describes the bees’ hives and honey-making process and the central role they played in defining her perceptions of family and community. With detail and precision, May teaches the reader about the world of bees and their value to our lives, and hers.
The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty
Recommended by Kavya Ramanan
The City of Brass is a compelling historical fantasy inspired by the author’s extensive knowledge of the medieval Islamic world. An intricate adventure story full of magic and politics, the book (and its sequels) are full of memorable characters and settings. The series also contains the most vivid depiction of a civil war I’ve encountered.
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
Recommended by Joseph Molnar
It turned out not being as predictive of the current moment as Huxley’s Brave New World, but Orwell is a fantastic writer nonetheless and 1984 gives the high school reader a great introduction to the usage of themes and symbolism in a novel.
An American Summer: Love and Death in Chicago by Alex Kotlowitz
Recommended by Alison Mellon
When I was in college, I took an introductory education class that included reading journalist Alex Kotlowitz’s There Are No Children Here, and it had a deep impact on my interest in education and bringing resources to under-resourced communities. In 2013, Kotlowitz spent a summer in Chicago meeting people impacted by gun violence, and these new stories (some follow-ups from his first book) make up An American Summer. Using the moment in the summer as an anchor, he chronicles the stories of surviving parents and friends, and of individuals who were caught with a gun or convicted of a shooting. Kotlowitz’s writing style makes you want to cheer on, hug, sigh with, cry with, and send hope to all of the people he profiles.