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Los Altos High School

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Annotated Readings

This reading list was originally compiled by teacher Carol Morrison at Elgin High School, Elgin, Illinois.  It has been revised by the English Department at Los Altos High School, Los Altos, CA.  Some information in this bibliography was compiled from the website of Kepler's Books, in Menlo Park, CA.

Allende, Isabel Eva Luna
Chronicles the life of a Chilean family in historical and cultural transition through powerful moments of conflict and passion.

Atwood, Margaret. Alias, Grace.
Atwood bases this novel on accounts of a 19th-century woman convicted of a double homicide. In Atwood's deft retelling, it is society that is indicted.

Baldwin, James. Go Tell It on the Mountain.
The poignant story of Baldwin's own childhood in Harlem, dominated by a tyrannical stepfather as well as a racist society.

Beattie, Ann. Chilly Scenes of Winter. 
A '70s love story set against the cynical youth culture of the time.

Bellow, Saul. The Adventures of Augie March.
Born out of wedlock and brought up in the poverty of Chicago, Augie takes life as it comes and whenever he can get it.

Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451.
Bradbury magnifies the flaws of today's society and builds a horrifying future world where firemen burn books and television controls thought.

Brautigan, Richard. So the Wind Won't Blow It All Away. 
Funny-sad, surrealistic account of a childhood accident, the last novel by the man who made the transition between the Beat Generation and the hippies.

Buck, Pearl S. The Good Earth.
A Chinese peasant and his wife endure famine, drought, and revolution in pursuit of his passion to accumulate land.

Burgess, Anthony. A Clockwork Orange.  
A futuristic world of violence, dominated by teenage gangs, touches on brainwashing, human rights, and free will.

Camus, Albert. The Plague.  
A small group of people react to the catastrophe of bubonic plague at the Algerian fort of Oran.

Cates, David. Hunger in America.
Cates is heralded as the Kerouac of the '90s. This first novel charts the rites of passage of a young man whose odyssey to find his lost father takes him from Madison, Wisconsin, to Kodiak, Alaska.

Cather, Willa. My Antonia.  
Antonia, a Bohemian immigrant, survives all the hardships of the pioneering days of Nebraska.

Chopin, Kate. The Awakening.  
A tale of extramarital love, miscegenation and escape.

Christie, Agatha. And Then There Were None.  
Ten persons are invited to an island where they begin to die, one by one, following the verses of a nursery rhyme. Who is the murderer?

Conroy, Pat. The Prince of Tides.  
Saga of a South Carolina family and a study of the creative personality; the pull of the renegade vs. the security of respectability.

Cormier, Robert. The Chocolate War.  
Set in a Catholic boys' school. A loner tries to challenge both school and peer authority with violent consequences.

Crane, Stephen. The Red Badge of Courage.  
This Civil War classic investigates the meaning of courage and a young man's fear during battle.

Crichton, Michael. The Great Train Robbery.  
This factual account traces the preparations and execution of one of the most famous robberies of the century.

Dai, Sijie. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress.
Set during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the novel tells the story of two hapless city boys sent to a remote mountain village for reeducation. Struggling to stave off despair, the boys find salvation in two discoveries: the charming daughter of the local tailor and a trove of forbidden Western classics in Chinese translation.

Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities
A story of love, passion, principle and honor set in the French Revolution.

Doctorow, E.L. Ragtime.  
This mix of history and   presents events of early 20th-century America in story form.

Doyle, Arthur Conan. The Hound of the Baskervilles.  
A family curse surrounds deaths on the English moors as carried out by a phantom hound. Sherlock Holmes, as usual, solves the mystery.

Dumas, Alexandre. The Count of Monte Cristo.  
An old-fashioned swashbuckler set in France. A tale of unjust imprisonment, escape, and new life.

DuMaurier, Daphne. Rebecca.  
The most widely-read Gothic of the 20th century. Set in England with all the classical elements: a poor young girl, a mysterious older man, a lovely manor, and murder.

Eco, Umberto. The Name of the Rose.  
In 1327, a series of murders in an Italian abbey and a mysterious library cause Brother William of Baskerville to investigate.

Eliot, George. Middlemarch
An expansive, funny, moving picture of middle class English life in the 19th century.

Erdrich, Louise. The Beet Queen.  
Best-selling novel of love, abandonment, jealousy and family relationships; set in North Dakota, and spanning forty years.

Esquivel, Laura. Like Water for Chocolate.  
A number-one bestseller in Mexico and the United States about love and freedom in turn-of-the-century Mexico.

Faulkner, William. The Sound and the Fury.  
A Southern family of gentle blood is shown in decay, its members petty failures, drunkards, suicides, and idiots.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott. Tender Is the Night.  
A successful psychiatrist loses everything when he marries one of his patients.

Ford, Richard. The Sportswriter.
Former novelist Frank Bascombe seeks a simple existence following the death of his son and a shattering divorce.

Forester, C.S. Sink the Bismarck.
A true account of the British Navy's victory over the German submarine during World War II.

Frank, Pat. Alas, Babylon.
A small enclave of survivors fights the aftermath of a nuclear war.

French, Marilyn. The Women's Room.
One of the banner novels of the feminist movement, this novel shows women as both the victims and the victors of male oppression.

Fuentes, Carlos. The Death of Artemio Cruz.
A novel that focuses on the political and economic turmoil in 20th-century Mexico, this praised book is considered the best work by Mexico's most popular writer.

Fuentes, Carlos. The Old Gringo. 
An account of Ambrose Bierce's disappearance in Mexico during the revolution.

Gaines, Ernest J. The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.  
A former slave lives to challenge segregation in the South of the 1950s. Her story spans the rise of the black presence in the United States.

Garcia Marquez, Gabriel. Love in the Time of Cholera.  
A story of love in all its guises: young love, married love, romantic love, carnal love, even love with the symptoms of cholera.

Gilman, Charlotte P. Herland.  
A utopia made up only of women.

Glasgow, Ellen. Vein of Iron.
A vein of iron runs in Ada, indomitable daughter of a Virginia family.

Gordimer, Nadine. My Son's Story.  
The Nobel Prize-winning author from South Africa deals honestly and openly with the horrors of apartheid and its toll on human lives. This novel is also a love story as told by the son of a black man involved with a white woman.

Graves. Robert. I, Claudius.  
The memoirs of an emperor of Rome tell of intrigue, murder, and debauchery.

Greenberg, Joanne. I Never Promised You a Rose Garden.  
An adolescent girl fights and wins the battle of her sanity.

Guterson, David. Snow Falling on Cedars.  
In Puget Sound in 1954, a local fisherman suspiciously drowns, and a Japanese American is charged with his murder. Reminiscent of To Kill a Mockingbird in its suspense, courtroom drama, and roots in racial prejudice.

Hamilton, Jane. The Book of Ruth.  
Covers a twenty-year period from early childhood to young adulthood, as Ruth shows incredible resilience despite an abusive mother and husband. Set in the region just north of Elgin.

Hammett, Dashiell. The Maltese Falcon.  
This classic hard-boiled detective mystery set the pace for most modern mysteries. Sam Spade confronts murder, smuggling, and dangerous love.

Hardy, Thomas. Tess of the D'Ubervilles.  
Tess finds that the code of conduct is not the same for men and women. She must find her own path to selfhood.

Hayslip, Le Ly When Heaven and Earth Changed Places
An autobiography set in Vietnam during the war, and in the United States afterwards.

Head, Bessie. Maru.  
Head tells of an orphaned Masareva girl who goes to teach in a remote Botsenana village. This novel depicts the hideousness of racial prejudice, but balances it with a love story that reveals the mystery and spirituality of life.

Heinemann, Larry. Paco's Story.  
The moving story of a Vietnam veteran who has been permanently damaged by the war. Heinemann, a Chicago author and winner of The National Book Award, writes from first-hand experience.

Heinlein, Robert. Stranger in a Strange Land.  
A young man raised on Mars by Martians returns to earth and inspires a new religion.

Hemingway, Ernest. For Whom the Bell Tolls.  
An American is fighting with the Spanish patriots in the Spanish Civil War. Concerns love, courage, and loss.

Herrera, Susana. Mango Elephants in the Sun.
A magical memoir of two years in the Peace Corps, in Cameroon, Africa. LAHS English teacher Herrera learns as much from the villagers as she teaches them during her dramatic and passionate sojourn.

Hersey, John. Hiroshima.
A non-fiction account of the terrible aftermath of the atom bomb that ended World War II.

Hesse, Herman. Steppenwolf.  
Considering himself half man, half wolf of the steppes, Harry Haller faces the conflict between nature and civilization.

Hoffman, Alice. Seventh Heaven.  
Newly-divorced Nora Silk moves her two young children to 50s suburbia, where women are just finding out they are people.

Hijuelos, Oscar The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love
Two young men pursue their passions for music, food and women in Cuban-American New York.

Hugo, Victor. Les Miserables.  
Jean Valjean, a man pursued by "justice" for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his starving family, leads this novel through its revelations of social criticism.

Hurston, Zora Neal Dust Tracks in the Road
An autobiographical account of Zora Neale Hurston's rise from poverty in the rural south to a prominent place among the leading artists and intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance.

Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World.  
A terrifying preview of the future, where babies are produced in bottles and adults are controlled through "soma."

Irving, John., The World According to Garp.  
Best-selling satire of modern life -- crazy, funny, sad, and very disturbing.

James, Henry. The Turn of the Screw.
A governess seeks to protect the young children from the ghosts of a former governess and servant.

Johnson, Charles. Middle Passage.  
The story of a black free man who books passage on a slave ship.

Joyce, James. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.  
Stream-of-consciousness monologue of a young man's life and art.

Kafka, Franz. The Trial.  
Joseph K. seeks justice for an unknown crime he is accused of committing.

Kerouac, Jack. On the Road.  
A journey around America with the leaders of the Beat Generation, Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady.

Kingston, Maxine Hong. Woman Warrior, Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts
Magical, realistic story of a Chinese girlhood among the past and present ghosts.

Koestler, Arthur. Darkness at Noon.  
An idealistic revolutionary is persuaded by his superiors to confess to crimes against the state that he did not commit.

Lahiri, Jhumpa. Interpreter of Maladies.
A wonderful collection of short stories revealing the inner lives and relationships of ordinary but complex characters. Rooted in Indian and Indian-American culture, each story is a satisfying gem.

Lawhead, Stephen R. Taliesen
A history that sets stage for the Tale of King Arthur, the Holy Grail and Merlin.

Lawrence, D.H. Women in Love.  
The marriages of two sisters reflect the author's views on love and life.

Leffland, Ella Rumors of Peace
A girl tells the story of growing up during World War II in Martinez, California. This sensitive novel evokes the time and place of the home front during the war while telling the story of a girl's growth into womanhood.

Lee, Chang Rae A Gesture Life
The story of an ethnic Korean-Japanese who becomes a "proper" man and upstanding citizen in New York. As his life unravels, he is transported back to his days as a medic in the Japanese army and his obsessive love for a young comfort woman.

LeGuin, Ursula. The Left Hand of Darkness.  
As first envoy to the technologically primitive world of Winter, Al must deal with a hostile climate, a difficult government, and his own conventional sexuality.

Lessing, Doris. The Fifth Child.  
A sinister baby is born into the "perfect" family. A realistic yet allegorical treatment of man's refusal to recognize his own nature.

Lewis, Sinclair. Main Street.  
A forerunner of the pro-feminist novel. The wife of a small-town doctor is trapped by bigotry and narrow-mindedness.

Mahfouz, Naguib. Midaq Alley
Mahfouz won the 1988 nobel prize for his beautiful, moving portrait of daily life in Cairo.

Malamud, Bernard. The Fixer.
The victim of a vicious anti-Semitic conspiracy and unjustly sent to a Russian prison, Hakov Bok exemplifies the dignity and relentless suffering of mankind.

Mann, Thomas. The Magic Mountain.
A tuberculosis sanitorium visited by Hans Catrop becomes a symbol of the diseased pre-war Europe that made World War I inevitable.

Martell, Yann. The Life of Pi.
The son of a zookeeper, Pi Patel emigrates from India to North America aboard a Japanese cargo ship. The ship sinks. Pi finds himself alone in a lifeboat, his only companions a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger.

Marshall, Catherine. Christy.  
A naïve Eastern girl goes to Appalachia to teach school and finds poverty, ignorance, disease and love.

Mason, Bobbie Ann. In Country.  
A young girl tries to understand the death of her father in Vietnam.

Maugham, W. Somerset. Of Human Bondage.  
Handicapped by a club foot, Phillip falls into a lonely life and an obsessive love.

McCarthy, Cormac. All the Pretty Horses.  
A 16-year-old boy journeys to Mexico and finds unexpected violence. A modern cowboy story.

McCullers, Carson. A Member of the Wedding.  
A lonely twelve-year-old girl believes that she will accompany her brother and his wife on their honeymoon and share their new life.

McMillan, Terry How Stella Got Her Groove Back
When Stella takes a spur-of-the-moment vacation to Jamaica, her world gets rocked to the core, not just by the relaxing effects of sun and sea and an island full of attractive men, but by one man in particular.

Melville, Herman. Moby Dick
Melville's classic tale of whaling is perhaps the greatest American novel.

Miller, Walter. A Canticle for Leibowitz.  
A monk fashions a new Renaissance in a post-nuclear world. This book ranks with 1984 and Brave New World in its visionary power.

Mitchell, Margaret. Gone with the Wind.  
The classic saga of courage, love, and loss in the South during the Civil War era.

Mishima, Yukio. The Sound of the Waves.  
Traces the lives of two young lovers on a small Japanese island untouched by modern civilization.

Morrison, Toni. Paradise.
History, and historical "truth" clash when a young woman is taken in by a religious group.

Mukherjee, Bharati. Jasmine
The story of an Indian girl who moves to the United States and deals with the tensions between assimilation and her ancestral cuture.

Naipaul, V.S. A House for Mr. Biswas.
An Indian in exile in the Carribean searches for himself in a foreign land.

Naylor, Gloria. The Women of Brewster Place.  
In a modern tenement building, a group of black women show strength and adaptability.

O'Connor, Flannery. Wise Blood.  
A Southern gothic mixture of humor, suspense, and the grotesque by one of this century's most original writers.

Orwell, George. 1984.  
Portrays a futuristic society, where privacy is lost to watchful televisions and Big Brother.

Paretsky, Sara. Indemnity Only.  
In Paretsky's first novel, she establishes her hard-boiled female sleuth, V.I. Warshawski, as she investigates the death of her cousin and shipping fraud.

Parks, Gordon. The Learning Tree.  
A young black boy must face both black and white prejudice after he witnesses a murder.

Plath, Sylvia. The Bell Jar.  
A fictionalized account of the poet's first suicide attempts and her temporary recovery. Also explores the role of women and artists in mid-20th century America.

Proulx, E. Annie. The Shipping News.  
A brilliantly written novel that follows a third-rate American newspaperman's redemption and rebirth in Newfoundland.

Rand, Ayn. Anthem.  
There is no "I," only "we" in the future society. Rand’s philosophy of “Objectivism” argues that the individual will is primary.

Price, Reynolds The Promise of Rest
A father faces his son's death from AIDS and rediscovers himself.

Rodriguez, Luis Always Running: La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A.
An explosive memoir of hopelessness and resurrection that vividly portrays the brutality of barrio gang life.

Rolvaag, Ole. Giants in the Earth.  
Per Hansa finds freedom and excitement in the rough Dakota Territory, but his wife knows only loneliness and terror.

Salinger, J.D. Franny and Zoey.  
At twenty, Franny Class is experiencing desperate dissatisfaction with her life. Her brother Zoey tries to help.

Sarton, May. As We Are Now.
An old woman fights for her dignity in a brutal nursing home.

Scott, Sir Walter. Ivanhoe.  
The days of Robin Hood and Saxon-Norman feuds.

Sepulveda, Luis. The Old Man Who Read Love Stories.  
An aging widower in a rain-soaked town in the Ecuadorian jungle is pulled from his peaceful life when a mother ocelot goes on a bloody rampage. He, who knows the jungle better than anyone, must pursue an animal he doesn't really want to kill.

Shields, Carol. The Stone Diaries.  
This novel follows a woman's life from her birth in rugged Manitoba farm country early in the century, to her emigration to Indiana in order to join her eccentric and brilliant father.

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein.  
Science creates a monster when it tries to play God.

Shute, Neville. On the Beach.  
The United States and USSR engage in a final nuclear war. Australia awaits the arrival of a radioactive cloud and certain death.

Sienkiewicz, Henry K. Quo Vadis.  
Religious brutality, risk, and conversion in the time of Christ.

Silko, Leslie Marmon. Ceremony.
A Native American returning to his reservation after surviving the horrors of captivity as a prisoner of the Japanese during World War II is drawn to his traditions, and his search for comfort and resolution becomes a ritual--a curative ceremony that defeats his despair.

Sillitoe, Alan. The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.
A boy sent to reform school uses running as his weapon.

Simpson, Mona. Anywhere But Here.  
This first novel by one of America's best young writers is a tale of family love and duplicity that confronts our most deeply embedded social myths.

Sinclair, Upton. The Jungle.  
A condemnation of the meatpacking industry in Chicago at the turn of the century. Social criticism that had an enormous political impact.

Singer, Isaac Bashevis. Shosha.  
The story of a Polish-Jewish writer in Warsaw in the 1930s.

Smiley, Jane. A Thousand Acres.
A Pulitzer Prize winner, this novel probes the heart and the heartland of America. An Iowa farm family is propelled into a modern retelling of King Lear.

Smith, Betty. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.  
A young girl must drop out of school after her father dies. A story of perseverance and belief in a dream.

Steinbeck, John. In Dubious Battle.  
Covers the struggle of migrant workers for unionization. Picks up where Grapes of Wrath left off.

Stevenson, Robert Lewis. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.  
The disturbing tale of the dual personality of Dr. Jekyll, a physician preoccupied with the problems of good and evil.

Stoker, Bram. Dracula. 
This premier tale of vampirism was considered shocking in its day.

Stowe, Harriet Beecher. Uncle Tom's Cabin.  
The anti-slavery novel that helped ignite the Civil War.

Styron, William. Sophie's Choice.  
A horrifying decision a woman is forced to make in a concentration camp haunts her for life.

Tan, Amy. The Kitchen God's Wife.  
An absorbing narrative of a Chinese woman who emigrates to California. She offers her story, including long-held family secrets, to her daughter. Depicts the restrictive lives of women taught by their culture to always apologize.

Tartt, Donna. The Secret History.  
Five friends in a small Eastern college murder one of their own group and deal with the aftermath.

Thon, Melanie Rae. Iona Moon.  
Three high school seniors face traumatic problems as fate throws them together, then tears them apart.

Tolstoy, Leo. Anna Karenina.  
One of the world's great love stories. A woman sacrifices everything for love, and loses. A commentary on Russian society that is still applicable today.

Twain, Mark. The Prince and the Pauper.  
A street urchin and a prince change places only to find that they were happier in their old lives.

Tyler, Anne. The Accidental Tourist.  
Macon Leary "travels" through life just letting things happen to him, until he feels the impulse to escape.

Uris, Leon. Exodus.  
Traces the emergence of Israel as a nation.

Verne, Jules. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  
Verne shows incredible foresight in predicting future technology in this submarine tale, written more than 100 years ago.

Voltaire, Francois. Candide.
Timeless satire of society that dissects science and faith, ethics and legal systems, love and human vanity. Better just to tend your own garden.

Vonnegut, Kurt. Cat's Cradle.  
Brilliant and hilarious satire of military, political, scientific and religious establishments.

Walker, Alice. The Color Purple.  
A triumphant tale of a black woman who prevails over abuse and prejudice.

Walker, Margaret Jubilee
Based on the true story of Vyry--a Southern Civil War heroine to rival Scarlett O'Hara--the child of a white plantation owner and his black mistress.

Wells, H.G. War of the Worlds.  
A Martian attack threatens earth.

Wharton, Edith. Ethan Frome.  
A young girl falls in love with a married man. To end the impossible situation and prevent their imminent separation, he plans a double suicide with unforeseen consequences.

Wiesel, Elie. Dawn.  
In the aftermath of the Holocaust, victims struggle to rebuild their lives.

Wilde, Oscar. The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Gray remains ageless, but his portrait changes to reflect his sins.

Wilder, Thornton. The Bridge of San Luis Rey.  
A bridge collapses and kills five travelers. A priest asks why those particular individuals were killed.

Wright, Richard. Black Boy.
A first-hand, autobiographical account of growing up Black in the South in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

Zamyatin, Eugene. We.
This science fiction title presents a frightening view of the future.