10 Must Read Classics for High School

When my oldest children were approaching middle school, I came across an article about must-read classics for high schoolers. I realized that, even though I’m an avid reader, there were a number I had never read. I quickly set about to remedy the situation. Some of those “classics” turned out to be books I was glad I had skipped over in high school. But there were a few that stuck, and I’ve tried to bring them to my own kids to read as they’ve headed into high school.

This post is part of the Five Days of Great Kids Book Series. You can find all of the books in the series here. You can also pick up my Ultimate Books of Unit Studies for Literature Lovers for free here. It has forty-five literature unit resources for great kids’ books, printable graphic organizers for reading, and a unit study planning pack.
must read classics for high school students
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Just a disclaimer here…any list of must-read books for high school depends partly on what you’re hoping to accomplish through your literature selections. Do you want a focus on British literature, American literature, Shakespeare? Do you want a variety or are you focusing on a specific theme? The books in this post are a mixed bag, chosen more because I think they have a strong message, interesting themes, and great opportunities for discussion- which is one of the greatest parts of reading great books.
This classic is told in the first person from the viewpoint of Scout, a young girl whose father- a lawyer- is defending a black man charged with raping a white woman. It’s a coming of age story in the midst of the racism of a small town. It’s moving and beautiful and sometimes really harsh and sad as well. 

1984 by George Orwell

Although the real 1984 has come and gone, this dystopian novel is a frightening look at a future where thinking for yourself can be a really bad thing. It’s a warning story. I’ll give a spoiler that it’s dark with a pretty dark ending. But there are lots of good talking points in this book.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens can get a little wordy. But this is a great book for its historical significance as well as for the story. Set during the French Revolution, it’s a tale of adventure, daring, intrigue, love, and sacrifice.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer/ The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are two of Mark Twain’s iconic American boys. While The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is sometimes suggested for middle school and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn suggested for high school, the dialect in both can cause a problem for readers, so I think high school is appropriate for both. Tom Sawyer is a little more light hearted and Huckleberry Finn deals a little more heavily with the topic of racism and the injustices of slavery in the South.

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Romeo and Juliet is usually a good choice for a high school introduction to Shakespeare. It’s well-known. They’ve likely heard about it before, even if they’ve never read it. The No Fear Shakespeare version is one I really like because it gives the original spelling and word structure on one side with modern English on the other. (By the way, you definitely don’t need to wait until high school to introduce kids to Shakespeare. This post is all about introducing Shakespeare to your younger kids.)

The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom

The Hiding Place is a memoir by Corrie Ten Boom. Corrie was a Dutch woman whose family hid Jews during the Holocaust. She and her family were betrayed and sent to concentration camps. This is a story full of faith, love, sacrifice, and even forgiveness in the face of unspeakable cruelty.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

This has been one of my favorite classics of all time. Admittedly, your girls may enjoy it more than the guys. But it’s an excellent example of 19th century British literature and easier to read than some of the others, in my opinion. It’s a love story- of course- but there’s much more to it than that.

Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan

Many Christian theologians consider this allegory by John Bunyan second only to the Bible in its importance to Christians and the Christian walk through the ages. It follows the Christian on his journey to the Celestial City, allegorically portraying the life of a Christian from salvation to Heaven. In my 10 Must-Read Classics for Upper Elementary I recommended Little Pilgrim’s Progress by Helen L. Taylor. It’s an adaptation for kids and will greatly help your high schooler to understand the real thing later.

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Mere Christianity is one of Lewis’ nonfiction works. It’s a great look at Christian doctrine and one that high school students should have the opportunity to read. Home School Adventure Co. has a great journal that you can use to accompany a reading of Mere Christianity.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Although I don’t always recommend much the darker classic literature that is sometimes on a high school reading list, this is one I think worthwhile. It’s definitely dark. It’s the story of a plane of boys from a boys school who are crashed and left to survive with no adults. The themes and glimpse of human nature are worth reading and discussing even though the story is, admittedly, dark and sometimes disturbing.

The high school years are a great time to introduce literature that allows for discussion of different worldviews. Some of these recommendations are a good way to do that. And some are just books your student needs to be well-read and able to discuss good literature.

must read classics for high school students

Don’t forget to pick up your free literature unit studies. Most of these are for younger kids, so if you only have high schoolers, there may not be many here for you, but feel free to pass the link along.