Junior year gets a bad rap. And I know you incoming juniors would love to hear that it isn’t that bad, and that it’ll be over before you know it, but I won’t tell you that. SATs are looming, and the college search process begins in all its sickeningly horrifying glory. But hey, prom is pretty fun. And you’ll get your driver’s license! And after reading this dubiously helpful post, at least AP American Literature will be a breeze (uhhhh, provided your teachers have very low expectations). Read on, future juniors!
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Holden Caulfield comes off as a bit of a crotchety, messed up kid – he’s incapable of understanding duck migration patterns, he’s a terrible date, and he thinks about 80% of people are total phonies. But he loves his little sister, Phoebe, and he’s kicked around more than he really deserves. This much is true: the three days Holden spends wandering around a frozen Manhattan after being expelled from his fourth private school say “Stay in School” better than any inspirational poster.
“I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff—I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.” Strange – this position wasn’t discussed at career day.
To get inside Holden’s totally insane mind, use the SparkNotes.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Get the tissues ready – this book is guaranteed to bring the waterworks. Lennie and George are best friends and migrant farmers with plans to someday have a farm of their own. George cares for and protects Lennie because Lennie has a mental disability and a nasty habit of accidentally crushing things, like puppies and people’s wives. And you know what they say about the best laid plans…suffice it to say, this does not end well.
“I seen hundreds of men come by on the road an’ on the ranches, with their bindles on their back an’ that same damn thing in their heads . . . every damn one of ’em’s got a little piece of land in his head. An’ never a God damn one of ’em ever gets it. Just like heaven.”
The SparkNotes aren’t totally necessary, but they’re definitely helpful in understanding the culture of migrant farming if it seems unfamiliar to you.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
In my opinion, it’s the characters that make this book the classic it is. Boo Radley! A recluse among recluses (recli?). And Atticus Finch, the man I think my own dad has based himself after. And little Scout, who you know is just such a cute, grimy kid without ever actually seeing her. The story is interesting too, especially if you have a fondness for reading about Depression-era America on a full stomach from the comfort of your air-conditioned living room, which is, in fact, one of my hobbies.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Thanks for the sage advice, Atticus/my dad!
This is a lesson you can puzzle out for yourself, but a look at the SparkNotes can’t hurt!
Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
Here’s another cheerful tale! It’s hard to read for a couple of reasons. One is that Death of a Salesman is a play, so it’s tempting to skip over the stage directions and then not understand where a scene is taking place. It’s also somewhat confusing because the woefully unsuccessful protagonist, Willy Loman, is experiencing flashbacks throughout the play. He travels among various scenes from his life, ranging from just kind of depressing to oh-my-god-what-has-society-done-to-the-American-family depressing. The book culminates in Willy’s suicide. Basically, it’s a play about….the death of a salesman. There ya go.
“Nothing’s planted. I don’t have a thing in the ground.”
Use the SparkNotes for the analysis of the characters’ names if nothing else – they’re rich with (depressing) symbolism.
The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald
Now this is a book. It’s a love story and there’s tons of smoking and drinking and partying involved. It’s all very prohibition-era glam. The title character, Jay Gatsby, rose from a life of abject poverty to become a nouveau riche Long Island socialite through illegal smuggling in a morally bankrupt perversion of the American Dream. Naive, even keel Nick Carraway gets swept into Gatsby’s twisted affection for Nick’s married cousin, Daisy. There’s a lot of drama and staring at green lights in the distance – and the movie‘s good, too.
“I hope she’ll be a fool—that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.” You just said a mouthful there, sister.
The problem with The Great Gatsby is that it’s so entertaining it’s easy to forget you’re supposed to be learning something about the corruption of wealth and society. The SparkNotes will remind you (without being a killjoy).