Upper Division Summer Reading

“I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, and one to write in.”
—Robert Louis Stevenson

Summer is a truly wonderful time to read. We hope you will enjoy delving into reading this summer. Most courses offer a selection of titles that will introduce foundational themes for the course.

At Stevenson, we ask that all students set aside social media and spend time with books that open their minds to new ideas and communities.

Getting Started

Please follow the instructions below to select titles appropriate for both the history and English courses in which you are enrolled. Before classes begin this fall, write a reading reflection in response to one of the books you read from the approved list. This reflection serves as both an opportunity to help you process the text and a chance for your teacher to get to know you and your writing. While not graded, this should be completed independently and thoughtfully. Once enrolled in classes in August, you will be asked to submit your reading reflection to your teacher, so please write and save your reflection in Google docs.

Please note that your teachers choose these books with great care, selecting titles we believe students will find both compelling and entertaining. It is important to recognize that on occasion students may encounter graphic material or offensive language.

Book Formats

You are welcome to choose an ebook, audiobook or print edition for the books you select from your course lists. Check instructions for the required summer read titles—for many of these, you will need a hard copy to bring to class in the fall.

Support Local Bookstores

Consider supporting independent bookstores when shopping for your summer reading selections. One good way to do so is through the site bookshop.org. Or visit your local library!

Entering 9th Grade

In ninth grade, both your English and history classes explore the themes of identity and place. Select at least two titles from the following books that take up these themes in different ways.

  • The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
  • Citizen Illegal, José Olivarez
  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, Benjamin Alire Sáenz
  • Dragon Hoops, Gene Luen Yang*
  • Farewell to Manzanar, Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston
  • The Good Thief, Hannah Tinti
  • How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, Julia Alvarez
  • Diary of a Part Time Indian, Sherman Alexie
  • I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, Erica Sanchez
  • Life of Pi, Yann Martel
  • March, Book 1, by John Lewis*
  • Nervous Conditions, Tsitsi Dangarembga
  • No One is Too Small to Make a Difference, Greta Thunberg
  • Red Sky at Morning, Richard Bradford
  • A Separate Peace, John Knowles
  • The Star Side of Bird Hill, Naomi Jackson
  • Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
  • Uncle Tungsten, Oliver Sacks
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson
  • The World Without Us, Alan Weisman

*graphic novel or memoir

Teacher Recommendations, Selection Stories, and Warnings

Mr. Schmittgens’s recommendation: Published in 1951, Catcher in the Rye is often viewed as a modern “coming of age” classic. The main character, a disillusioned, rebellious, and sensitive prep-school dropout recalls a three-day period of events that leads to his emotional breakdown. Popular to generations of readers—and noted in its day for the protagonist’s salty language—the story offers an unvarnished and often humorous examination of the heartbreak, hypocrisy, and pivotal events associated with adolescence. I remember picking up this book in high school (but not as an assigned reading for a class), and loving it for its humor and its journey into the world of boarding schools (a complete mystery to me) and New York City, a city that captured my imagination. It was one of those books that I felt as though I could really hear the voice of the narrator and protagonist, and while I did not particularly identify WITH him, I certainly felt something FOR him.

Mrs. Bates’s recommendation: This fast-paced graphic memoir follows a high school basketball team in northern California as they pursue a state title. While it will likely appeal to athletes, I love that it was written by an author who had never identified as a ‘sports guy’ but found belonging as part of this team. The narrative includes glimpses into the history of basketball and the importance of the sport in a variety of cultures.

Dr. Jacobs’s recommendation: This dramatic and chilling memoir recounts adjustment and resilience of a young Japanese-American girl during World War II as she was forcibly relocated to Manzanar, a Japanese internment camp far from her California home. What I really love about this book is that it beautifully narrates the difficult history of the United States’s reckoning with race and ethnicity in the early 1940s from the perspective of a girl slightly younger than you. In this short but powerful coming of age story, Jeanne Wakatsuki grapples with themes that you may have experienced yourself and that we will explore more deeply in your first year at Stevenson: reconciling the myriad components of identity, the concept of home, and adapting to circumstances beyond one’s control.

Dr. Matabane’s Recommendation: Already considered an “American classic” ASP is one of my all-time favorite novels! It’s old school New England boarding school life + messy friendships and an accident that may or may not be an accident! And it’s short but wonderfully written!

Dr. Matabane’s Recommendation: Plot centers on a teenaged girl with deadly interests. She’s part of a quirky family whose wealth and legacy are in decline just like the big house they live in that’s falling apart in a town that despises them.

Dr. Hiles’s recommendation: What would happen to the planet if all human beings suddenly disappeared from it? This thought experiment reads like a thriller, as Weisman imagines what would happen to humanity’s footprint without us to maintain it: subways would flood, plantlife would overtake roads, and house cats would do just fine. Ultimately, this accessible, enthralling book shows the depth and reach of our impact on the planet, and offers a hopeful path forward to a more sustainable future for Earth–hopefully with us in it.

Entering 10th Grade

In 10th grade, you will explore the themes of language and power in your English class. Relatedly, you will explore people’s experiences of structures of power and authority in your history course. Select at least two titles from the following books that take up this theme in different ways.

  • Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
  • Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi
  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon
  • Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
  • Hagseed, Margaret Atwood
  • Half a Yellow Sun, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • The House in the Cerulean Sea, TJ Klune
  • I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir, Malaka Gharib*
  • Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann
  • The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng
  • Night, Elie Wiesel
  • The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern
  • 1984, George Orwell
  • Pride & Prejudice or Sense & Sensibility, Jane Austen
  • Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand
  • Things FallApart, Chinua Achebe

*graphic novel or memoir

Teacher Recommendations, Selection Stories, and Warnings

We can seldom say that a book will change your life, but Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe will likely do so. Spend some time with a preindustrial yet modern society and see what it looked like in African traditional tribal states when the European imperialists showed up to “claim” their lands. This is the biggest issue of modern history and it summarizes many essential themes that will clarify your understanding of the modern world.

Mr. Salerno’s recommendation: A riveting murder/mystery, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a fast-paced, beautifully written tale of an autistic boy who tries to unravel a neighborhood crime. The protagonist’s way of looking at the world is enthralling, highly unusual, and thought provoking. On his way to uncovering the killing of a dog, the boy finds out much more than anticipated about the world around him. This novel is an absolute gem.

Dr. Hiles’s recommendation: For those of you who just read The Tempest in English 1, Hagseed is sure to be a treat. Margaret Atwood has reworked Shakespeare’s play into a clever and fast-paced novel set in contemporary Canada. Several years after a betrayal that ousted him from the directorship of his theater company, Felix is staging The Tempest at a local prison—it’s the only stage he’s got now, and he’s hopeful that this production will somehow relaunch his career and reconcile him to his long-lost daughter.

Dr. Cabral’s Recommendation: I was first introduced to Jane Austen through the 1995 film version of Sense and Sensibility. I remember going to see it with my grandmother in Florida and walking out of the theatre still thinking about the characters and the twists and turns of the plot. I remember wanting to go back and watch it again. I later went on to read Sense and Sensibility and Austen’s Mansfield Park in college. My “Moral Philosophy” professor, Malcolm Reid, took our class to see the film adaptation of Mansfield Park, the one that came out in 1999. Over a scone, he laughingly quoted an academic (his name is escaping me) who said that he only reads Jane Austen and reads all seven of her novels every year. Some of my sophomores this year have said that their favorite genre is romance, so this might be especially appealing for anyone who enjoys a great love story!

Ms. Peterson’s Recommendation: Big-hearted and enchanting, The House in the Cerulean Sea is about a lonely caseworker, Linus Baker, who works for the department in charge of magical youth. He is sent to an orphanage on a magical island to assess whether or not the magical orphans are being cared for properly. What Linus finds is a family he never knew he needed, a love he never thought possible, and a renewed appreciation for the unexpected. If you want to be wrapped in a feel-good, beach blanket of a book this summer, read this!

Entering 11th Grade

In English this year, you will explore voices in American literature. To prepare for these endeavors, this summer you have been asked to read books by American authors. Please select at least two titles from the list below.  

  • All Adults Here, Emma Straub
  • Americanah, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • An American Marriage, Tayari Jones
  • The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath
  • Continental Divide, Alex Myers
  • East of Eden, John Steinbeck
  • Educated, Tara Westover
  • The Glass Castle, Jeanette Walls
  • Human Errors, Nathan H. Lents
  • In Cold Blood, Truman Capote
  • Welcome to the Monkey House, Kurt Vonnegut
  • Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer
  • Just Mercy: A Story of Redemption and Justice, Bryan Stevenson**
  • Last Night at the Lobster, Stewart O’Nan
  • Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng
  • Moneyball, Michael Lewis
  • Nine Stories, J. D. Salinger
  • Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard
  • The Vanishing Half, Brit Bennett
  • Walking to Listen, Andrew Forsthoefel
  • How Much of These Hills is Gold, by C. Pam Zhang

**This book has been adapted for young adults; students may read the original or YA version.

The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood. Please bring a hard copy of this book to class in the fall, and be prepared to begin English 3 Honors ready to participate in a discussion of the text. You can find guided reading questions here. Note: strong themes in this dystopian novel meant for mature readers.

Teacher Recommendations, Selection Stories, and Warnings

Ms. Stockdale’s recommendation: This powerful memoir tells the story of a family that is both deeply dysfunctional and uniquely vibrant. Beginning to recall her stories from a very young age, Jeannette takes you on a journey across the country, as the four children learn to take care of themselves. As they grow up, they navigate relationships with a father who juggles severe alcoholism and a charismatic imagination and a mother whose free spirited nature leaves her avoidant of domestic responsibilities such as raising a family. A true story of resilience and redemption, this memoir tells of an intense love of a peculiar but loyal family.

Mr. Rymzo’s recommendation: I read this book in a day and could not stop thinking about it for weeks after. Krakauer’s page-turner chronicles the odyssey of Chris McCandless, who, after graduating from Emory University in 1991, roams across the American West, along the way abandoning his car, most of his possessions, donating $25,000 in savings to charity, and burning all the cash in his wallet. In August 1992, his body was found by moose hunters in the Alaskan wilderness. Borderline obsessed, Krakauer searches for clues to unpack the mystery. If you’re looking for riveting non-fiction, the search ends here.

Dr. Hiles’s recommendation: The “lobster” of the title refers to a Red Lobster restaurant that the invisible decision-makers at the corporate office have decided to close because of dismal profits. O’Nan’s novella follows the restaurant’s manager through his final shift as he comes to realize that in many ways, his goals in life are out of reach, and the camaraderie he developed with his co-workers will not be easily replaced. O’Nan’s spare, searing prose might surprise you for how it brings the ho-hum procedures of hourly-pay restaurant work to vivid life, while asking vital questions about the state of the American dream.

Mrs. Bates’s recommendation: Grab a few friends and get them to read this one along with you. While it’s not my favorite writing of all time (I give it a B+), it was one of my favorite book club discussions of all time. I love the omniscient narrator (it’s hard to choose sides!), how seriously Ng takes her high school characters, and the mystery that propels you to the finish (who set the fire after all??).

Mr. Bates’s recommendation: This was the first Michael Lewis book I’d read and it totally blew my mind. It follows the journey of my favorite sports team, the Oakland A’s, who were the poorest team in major league baseball yet developed an analytical approach that challenged conformity and changed the way decision-makers of the world think about data analytics. It was so gripping and thought-provoking that I read the whole book in day. And FYI, you do not need to know anything about baseball to enjoy this book!

Mr. Schmittgens’s recommendation: If, by chance, you enjoyed Catcher in the Rye, you will certainly appreciate this collection of short stories. A discerning reader will note similarities between the works, especially in terms of tone and humor. However, some of these stories project a much darker worldview.

Dr. Hiles’s recommendation: Brit Bennett’s second novel is astonishing for its sweeping scope and its meticulous detail. Here is the story of two twin sisters in mid-century America, one of whom decides to pass as white, thereby tearing herself away from her Black identity, her past, and her family—including her other half, her twin sister. This decision carries into the next generation as her niece uncovers the family secret, tracks down her cousin, and discovers her own identity as she falls in love with someone who has been passing in a different way. I loved escaping into this book and didn’t want to have to leave these characters or Bennett’s exquisite prose behind. (Some sexual violence and racial slurs.)

Mrs. Clark’s recommendation: Walking to Listen tells the story of recent college graduate Andrew Forsthoefel as he embarks on the journey of a lifetime. Heading out his back door in Pennsylvania, he travels the roads and routes of America on his own two feet. Along the way, he searches for stories and the opportunity to listen to those he meets. Andrew learns what it means to live in America and hear from the diverse citizens who inhabit this land. A coming of age meets adventure story, Walking to Listen offers a ground view of America and the stories that makeup this nation.

Entering 12th Grade

In your semester-long English classes as a senior, you will have the opportunity to explore a specific topic or theme in depth, which will prepare you well for your college coursework. While the titles below do not reflect a single theme, they have been selected by your teachers as engrossing reads. While the content may be more mature than you have encountered on our previous lists, this is a reflection of your readiness as a rising senior to grapple with the complexities of our world.

You should read a minimum of two books from this list (unless this requires you to read more than three summer reading books for your English and history classes in total). Read through the descriptions below to help you find your matches, and once you have finished your reading, visit your Pirate Page to complete a post-reading reflection on one of the self-selected books.

  • American Spy, Lauren Wilkinson
  • Atonement, Ian McEwan
  • Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life, William Finnegan
  • Bravey: Chasing Dreams, Befriending Pain, and Other Big Ideas, Alexi Pappas
  • The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup: My Encounters with Extraordinary People, Susan Orleans
  • Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, Alison Bechdel*
  • The Hours, Michael Cunningham
  • I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us, and a Grander View of Life, Ed Yong
  • Infinite Country, Patricia Engel
  • Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
  • Lab Girl, Hope Jahren
  • The Other Americans, Laila Lalami
  • Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman
  • The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula LeGuin
  • The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, David Grann
  • The Chosen and the Beautiful, Nghi Vo
  • On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Ocean Vuong
  • 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories, Lorrie Moore and Heidi Pitlor, editors
  • Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
  • Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin
  • The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, Elizabeth Kolbert
  • There, There, Tommy Orange
  • The Woman in Black, Susan Hill

*graphic novel or memoir

Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison. Please bring a copy of this book to class in the fall, and be prepared to begin AP Literature ready to participate in a discussion of the text. Our discussion of this book will set the tone for the entire year and provide the lens by which we will approach all reading assignments. In addition you should read two books from the list below (unless this requires you to read more than three summer reading books for your English and History classes in total).

Teacher Recommendations, Selection Stories, and Warnings

A Cold War spy novel with a twist: the spy at the at the center is an African American woman who sees through many of the promises about “ends justifying means” in the US intelligence world. Her assignment to interfere in the politics of Burkina Faso will force her to question her loyalties and re-examine her family’s past.

One night in the 1930s at an English country estate, a thirteen-year old witnesses something she is too young to understand, and sweeps the people around her into a series of tragic misunderstandings that last decades and shatter lives. McEwan’s novel is unforgettable and provocative (in all senses of the word—including some sexually explicit language) as he traces the myriad paths of individual lives against the backdrop of WWII.

Mr. Bates recommendation: If you have even the slightest interest in the ocean, surfing, travel, and adventure, this book will be hard to put down. Finnegan, an obsessed surfer and dazzling writer, won the Pulitzer Prize for this account of his travels around the world catching waves. In all seriousness, this might be the best book I have ever read.

Author Alexi Pappas is an Olympic runner, actress, filmmaker and writer, and this collection of personal essays is part coming-of-age story, part advice/inspirational writing. Her book explores chasing dreams, mental health, (including her own struggles with depression and the difficult death of her mother), and the challenges and rewards of navigating our world as a strong female athlete.

This award-winning graphic memoir chronicles the author’s life growing up in Pennsylvania where her family owned a funeral home. The narrative explores Bechdel’s own coming of age as a lesbian while also navigating revelations about her father’s sexuality after his death. The narrator is poignant, funny and smart (lots of fun literary references). The story includes some sexually explicit content.

Cunningham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel takes Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway as a starting point, but you don’t have to have read Woolf to enjoy the narrative layering and intricate cross-connections here. Cunningham weaves together the lives of three women (one of whom is Woolf writing her novel) in different cities and different decades, struggling to find not just happiness, but self-expression. (Some mature themes, including suicide and the AIDS crisis.)

We all contain multitudes—millions upon millions of bacteria and other microbes. In fact, we wouldn’t be alive without them. If you are interested in learning more about the creatures who call your body home, join Ed Yong for a “microbe’s-eye view” of you in this new classic in popular science writing.

In her 2021 novel, Engel, who holds dual citizenship in the US and Colombia, tells the story of a family separated by borders and caught in America’s immigration system—a system that fuels frustration but also inspires hope in the characters. (One brief passage of sexual violence.)

If you are planning to take the Gothic elective, this novel is a terrific preparation. Plain, orphaned Jane survives a cold, uncaring step-family and a nightmarish boarding school before finding employment at Thornfield Hall, residence of the mysterious Mr. Rochester. But Thornfield and Rochester are haunted by nightmares and secrets of their own, and Jane’s search for love, independence, and acceptance becomes a strange and fascinating tale.

Jahren’s funny and accessible memoir is about much more than plants: she relates the joys and challenges of being a woman in science, introduces us to her hilarious and colorful lab assistant Bill (when is his memoir coming out!?), and wonders about the mysteries of the plant world all around us. Even her telling of the birth of her son (the one relatively gory chapter here) is at once wry and poignant because of her refreshing, distinctive voice.

Mr. Schmittgens’s recommendation: I really enjoyed this book, a story that offered me insight to a world unlike my own. Covering two generations of an immigrant family, the story begins with the mysterious death of a Moroccan restaurant owner and expands into the lives of this small-town California community of native and foreign-born residents who share similar struggles and aspirations. The story is somewhat complex—as it moves from one time period and narrator to another—but I found the tale (something of a detective story) intriguing and captivating. (Note: some mature themes, violence)

This is America. Perhaps the most important collection of American poetry, and eminently readable.

One of the great science fiction writers, Le Guin imagines a planet on which gender is not fixed—individuals can periodically become male or female. The world building is mind-boggling in its detail as Le Guin intersperses the journals of a visitor from Earth with the society’s mythological stories in a story about power and betrayal reminiscent of Game of Thrones.

If you are looking for an adventure on the page this summer, David Grann’s book is for you. Grann tells the riveting true story of the search for a lost explorer in the Amazon who had disappeared searching for “the Lost City of Z” in 1925. Grann is swept up in the search as well all these years later, and the result is a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction that will be hard to put down.

Ms. Stockdale’s recommendation: Ocean Vuong, an acclaimed poet, writes a stunning novel in the format of a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. In this novel, Vuong navigates issues of race, class, and masculinity as he tries to make sense of his family’s past, which originated in Vietnam, and present. While this novel covers challenging topics, such as addiction, violence and trauma, it also unearths the beauty in telling your story and the desperate need to feel heard in the sharing of such stories. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys poetry, as at times this novel reads as such.

Mrs. Bates’s recommendation: Especially if you plan to take the Short Story elective, this anthology is a great way to explore the form. You can jump around (no pressure to read the whole thing!) to begin to discover styles and storylines that captivate you. The ZZ Packer, Jhumpa Lahiri and Donald Barthelme stories are three of my favorites.

New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert charts the five major mass extinction events on the planet as prelude to her investigation of the sixth event – happening now. This Pulitzer Prize-winning book weaves together multiple scientific fields into an engrossing and accessible narrative.

Orange’s novel redefines what it means to be Native American: his characters are alive now, and live in Oakland, California. Told from multiple perspectives, Orange not only brings a diverse set of individual experiences together in this contemporary context, he brings the past to bear on the present. (Includes passages recounting violence against Native Americans in history, and also some gun violence in the present of the novel.)

A terrific, fast-paced ghost story set in early 20th-century England, complete with dense fogs, mysterious churchyards, a haunted house that becomes unreachable once the tide comes in, and a lonely protagonist desperately searching for the blurred line between dream and reality.