Shaking the Nickel Bush by Ralph Moody. “Skinny and suffering from diabetes, Ralph Moody is ordered by a Boston doctor to seek a more healthful climate. Now nineteen years old, he strikes out into new territory hustling odd jobs, facing the problem of getting fresh milk and leafy green vegetables. He scrapes around to survive, risking his neck as a stunt rider for a movie company. With an improvident buddy named Lonnie, he camps out in an Arizona canyon and ‘shakes the nickel bush’ by sculpting plaster of paris busts of lawyers and bankers. This is 1918, and the young men travel through the Southwest not on horses but in a Ford aptly named Shiftless.” This book is the sixth book in a series of eight autobiographical novels by Ralph Moody, the author and protagonist who had to grow up fast after his father’s death when Ralph was only eleven years old. High schoolers may want to start with the fist book in the series, Little Britches, or just begin with this one, a gripping tale of a young man’s adventures and growth.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. High school is the right time to be introduced to Harper Lee’s great American novel. And then to the movie, which by my exacting standards is just as good as the novel. The story takes place over the course of more than one year, winter summer fall and spring, but it feels like a summertime novel, as Jem and Scout play with the summer visitor, and as they grow and learn about the realities of life in A good follow-up story is I Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora, about a trio of rising ninth graders who spend the summer promoting TKAM and preparing for their big move to high school.
Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson. In the fictional account of the Philadelphia 1793 yellow fever epidemic, Fever 1793, Laurie Halse Anderson illustrates the deadly nature of yellow fever and its effects on the community with a story about Mattie Cook, a girl of fourteen who lives above a coffeehouse that provides her family’s livelihood. Since Mattie’s father is dead, Mattie’s mother, her grandmother, and the black cook, Eliza, run the coffeehouse, and Mattie and the serving girl, Polly, help. At the beginning of the book in August 1793, Mattie worries about her mother’s temper and about how to get a little extra sleep and avoid as much work as possible. By the end of the story, Mattie has been forced to take on adult responsibilities: nursing, providing food for her family, repelling thieves and intruders, and running the coffeehouse. Take a look at this post on Semicolon for more books about fevers, epidemics, and plagues.
Monsoon Summer by Mitali Perkins. Light summer reading. Fifteen year old Jazz Gardner’s mom tells her that the family is going to spend the summer in India, helping out at the orphanage that Mrs. Gardner lived in before she was adopted. And at about the same time, Jazz realizes that her feelings for Steve, her longtime business partner, have turned into something more than just platonic friendship. Unfortunately, there’s no indication from Steve that he sees Jazz as anything but a friend and a partner. And other girls are after Steve. And the business needs her. And who wants to go to India, anyway?
A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L’Engle. I love Madeleine L’Engle, and Ring of Endless Light is one of my favorites. The Austin family is spending the summer with Vicky’s grandfather who is dying. As Vicky writes her poetry and deals with her grief over her grandfather, she also finds friendship and maybe even romance with three very different boys: Zachary, the wild romantic; Leo, an old friend; and Adam, the dolphin researcher.
Summer Moonshine by P.G. Wodehouse. Sir Buckstone Abbott is an English baron with a house he can’t keep up, so he rents out the rooms in Walsingford Hall to an odd assortment of boarders. Then, Sir Bucksone Abbott goes into debt, then into hiding, and leaves his daughter, Jane, to take care of things in his absence. Wodehousian romantic and monetary entanglements, confusion, and ridiculousness ensue. This one is not Bertie and Jeeves and not set at Blandings Castle, but it’s humor from 1937 that translates into the twenty-first century quite satisfactorily. Many high schoolers should be ready to be introduced to Wodehouse, especially those who became Anglophiles, as I did, while reading British children’s literature.
Nonfiction for High School Reading:
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. Subtitled “Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics”, this narrative nonfiction book is for anyone interested in sports stories in general, rowing in particular, the rise of Nazism, the 1930’s, Olympic history, and just plain inspirational stories of perseverance and courage.
Miracle at Philadelphia by Catherine Drinker Bowen. “Over Philadelphia, the air lay hot and humid: old people said it was the worst summer since 1750. . . . In the Pennsylvania State House, which we call Independence Hall, some fifty-five delegates, named by the legislatures of twelve states (Rhode Island balked, refusing attendance) met in convention, and during a summer of hard work and high feeling wrote out a plan of government which they hoped the states would accept, and which they entitled The Constitution of the United States of America.” Catherine Drinker Bowen tells readers, teens and adults as well, all about what took place in “the room where it happened” during that summer of 1787.
Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins. The true story of a young man who decided to walk across the country from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific in search of . . . himself? Meaning? Patriotism? It’s a great story, and I absolutely loved living vicariously through Mr. Jenkins’ journey through the United States of 1979. (Jenkins only made it to New Orleans in the first book, so there’s a sequel, The Walk West.)
More Summer Reading ideas: