8 of Our High School English Class Novels Rated Worst to Best: A Ridge Review


Some common high school books.

Whether  you’re a bookworm or can’t even stand to look at anything longer than Twitter’s 280 character limit, you’ll still have to read “classics” for your high school English classes. SparkNotes can give you a lot of impersonal information regarding each book, but it can’t tell you how much you’ll actually enjoy it because, let’s face it, unless you’re going to be an English teacher, all any of us really care about is how bored each book will make us. So, instead of going in blind, we’ve compiled eight pieces that you’ll most likely end up reading eventually over the course of your high school career. 


Macbeth, Shakespeare – 2.5/10


Aden- Ugh, this one gives me nightmares; Mr. Racine had me read this my sophomore year, with our designated group also being forced to act out a scene! Needless to say, it went terrible and it gives me stress just thinking about it. The play itself is okay-ish? It just feels like it flops as a whole; like a lot of dramatic Shakespeare works, it’s dramatic but unrealistic and not fun to read. I totally believe in appreciating old works of literature, but this one is just not it. I think that it had some good monologues for it’s time, but that’s about it. The imagery of Macbeth slicing dudes to pieces in the beginning was kind of cool, I guess, but it doesn’t add anything to the bizarre and uninteresting story. 


Caitlin- Macbeth as a character is flat and boring and utterly indecisive, though I will admit that his soliloquies are kind of iconic. Where would society be if we didn’t have quotes like “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow/ Creeps in this petty pace from day to day”? We certainly wouldn’t have a catchy line in Hamilton, that’s for sure. As for the plot, there is little to find entertaining. The violence is unnecessary and falls short of advancing the plot in any meaningful way, while the only person with any goals whatsoever is a supporting character. Good luck when you eventually have to read this because Shakespeare, for all of his renown, did not evince his writing prowess with this particular play. 


1984, George Orwell – 3/10


Aden – This is one of the most historically influential pieces of literature ever written, and it’s good to recognize that; this does not mean, however, that Orwell’s ‘masterpiece’ really stands up to modern scrutiny. The novel has interesting elements, truly, and it’s dystopian depiction is really cool and was totally groundbreaking for the time. This is a novel that you hear about, but when you actually read it, it totally falls short. Like similar novels (knock on wood), Fahrenheit 451 being a good example, the story is uninteresting and doesn’t have much going for it. If you open it up and give it a read, you’ll see why high school sophomores (honors) and seniors seem to complain about it so much. It’s also important to note that, looking back on it, this novel is extremely uncomfortable and has a lot of dialogue and subject matter that might mess with a more sensitive kid. It’s better left to Senior year or above, if it’s worth teaching anything other than it’s important themes. 


Caitlin-This is a must-read if you like depressing books. The main character is a sad shell of a person—albeit because it accentuates the horrors of totalitarianism and the stripping away of one’s identity—but nonetheless, boring. There is nothing interesting about any of the characters or the plot in general, and the only time things get remotely interesting is during the climax of the novel. However, besides the fact that it’s incredibly boring, there are countless references to 1984 in pop culture; one example being Big Brother, the TV show. Even if you don’t get anything out of it, such as the warning against totalitarianism and propaganda, it’s still worth the read in regards to understanding aspects of pop culture. 


Brave New World, Aldous Huxley – 3.1/10


Aden – This is like 1984’s uglier, younger brother, who never became as popular as his Big Bro (heh, get the pun?!). This novel is incredibly disgusting and awkward to read. It has a lot of the same thematic values as 1984, but has a few more nuances that give it a little bit of a stylistic advantage over it’s commonly taught counterpart (at least, I had to read both books the same year). Putting it’s terrible beginning aside, the novel seems as though it’s going somewhere until about halfway through when the actual protagonist is revealed to the reader. By then, most readers are bound to have lost interest and the story goes in a totally different direction from that point on that just doesn’t live up to expectations. It has an interesting ending I guess, better than 1984


Caitlin – Compared to 1984, Brave New World is only a more interesting read if you squint. The premise of the book is thought-provoking, I suppose, but what it lacks is narrative enticement. The novel also paints sexuality—especially concerning female agency regarding sex—as something to be shunned or frowned upon. Not to mention the issue that is one of the main protagonists, John, who is from a “savage region” and is the only white man there. He continually has to prove himself to the natives by enduring lashings, but apparently he’s more intelligent than they are since he reads Shakespeare, which is why he is the only one who can save society. If any of the aforementioned statements don’t indicate why this isn’t a great novel, then I don’t know what can. 


Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare – 3.5/10


Aden – Romeo and Juliet will forever be alluded in day to day life and pieces of contemporary literature and media; yet, to a common reader, this story just doesn’t have much to offer. Shakespeare was a beautiful writer for his time, ‘The Great Bard’ definitely having a way with words and thematic writing. This story, though, is far too cheesy and overly shocking to really offer much to a serious reader flipping through the script. All plays are better performed than read, but even so there are far better theatrical works available. Yeah, if you’re a theater geek I say go for it, otherwise it’s worth passing up. 


Caitlin – Due to the fact that this tale has been retold countless times in different settings and with different characters, Romeo and Juliet is a must-read—but only because you would miss out on the origin for the popular retellings otherwise. Furthermore, other than the fact that retellings of the story are popular, this play doesn’t serve any purpose besides promoting the miscommunication trope and the death trope. The characters are way too dramatic, especially concerning a relationship that only lasted for a few days. In fact, their rash decisions and inability to communicate properly are the only things that move the plot forward. The play isn’t that great, and if not for the pop culture references, it wouldn’t be worth the time or effort to decipher what Shakespeare is saying. 


The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne – 5.5/10 


Aden – This one is definitely in the middle for me, personally. “The Scarlet Letter” has a beautiful story; it has complex characters and an interesting ending. There are positive themes to the novel, I’d have to argue that it really only falls short in its presentation and purpose. Without spoilers, the story seems pointless and it’s definitely a product of its time. There were different and more entertaining measures to get the themes across; nonetheless in a different sense it’s a story that also needs to be told. I’m torn on this one, I’d say it’s worth about one good weekend read before you forget about it, thus landing it right in the middle. 


Caitlin – Though this novel is deprived of compelling language and has a slow plot progression, it ranks right in the middle of the scale for me, as well, due to a few key components. The story itself is interesting—after all, the main female protagonist takes control of her own agency and dedicates her life to helping people. Furthermore, the revenge subplot is excellent, as well as the effect of prolonged feelings of guilt on a person. However, I’m not quite sure that Hawthorne had ever actually met a child before writing this novel, since he has the protagonist’s child spout off complex sentences. The Scarlet Letter isn’t awful, nor is it a masterpiece. When you eventually read it, just know that the sooner you get it done, the sooner you never have to read it again.  


The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald – 7/10 


Aden – I have a love-hate relationship with this novel. It doesn’t have as much substance as you’d think from how much people seem to rave over it, and the story is just kinda ‘meh’ when you put it into perspective. Yet, there’s so much beauty in Fitzgerald’s symbolism and theatricality. The dialogue is great and you can really get into all of the characters’ heads. This novel’s definitely saved by its good qualities as its bad ones are a heavy drop on it. It’s worth reading, though. 


Caitlin – The Great Gatsby is an easy, fast-paced read with an interesting plot. The only downside to this piece is that, while the narrator has his moments of sarcasm, he’s a passive character that shows minimal signs of development over the course of the novel. He’s just . . . there, watching scenes happen while almost never being in the middle of the action. It’s a good novel to read for school, since it has a grand total of nine chapters and you’ll likely be done with it in a jiff. 


Lord of the Flies, William Golding – 7/10


Aden – Classic story, classic themes. It’s a little brutal to go over especially with a freshman class, but it’s an important book and it’s well-written. Worth a read, not much more to say. 


Caitlin – Golding is a master at using symbols to represent themes and ideas in his work. It was really fun—and slightly morbid—to discover hidden meanings in the text, since every character and object serves a purpose; nothing is there coincidentally. However, if analyzing literature isn’t your cup of tea and you just want an engaging read, you can still enjoy the novel without overanalyzing everything. 


Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë – 7.5/10


Aden – This is basically the most boring novel you will ever read. With that said, Brontë’s iconic dark romance is beautiful and graceful. It reads like a Dickens novel and has this gloomy gothic tinge to its complicated characters and romantic struggles. The world totally sucks you in; I say it’s worth only one read since it’s a relatively large book, yet it’s a deep and twisted story that’s worth your time. 


Caitlin – Unlike other classics, such as 1984 and Brave New World, Wuthering Heights is not plot-driven, but rather character-driven. It’s all the more apparent with complex characters like Heathcliff, one of the original byronic heroes that makes the reader question their morals. He’s an absolute mess but he is one of the reasons the love story between him and Catherine is so compelling. The imagery and symbolism that Brontë uses are mesmerizing; they give the story a deeper meaning and further enhance it. To tie it all together, Brontë includes heartbreaking but iconic quotes, such as “whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.” It’s a love story for the ages, and one that, if you’re forced to read, you might end up liking. 


Though high school classics aren’t necessarily page-turners, they each offer thought-provoking ideas and themes. Hopefully you find something to like—or, at the very least, tolerate—about each book.