High school students get exposure to some of the best British and American literature ever written in their English classes. High school English classes are where students are introduced to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charlotte Bronte, William Faulkner and even the Bard himself. Most high school English teachers dream of making the English language come alive for their students; they want their students to love literature as much as they do. However, it seems that just as often (if not more often) the students resent their assigned readings, don’t even finish their novels, and never learn to love these works the way that they could under other circumstances.
There are several reasons for this. Teenagers do not like being told that they have to do anything. They’re contrary by nature, so if some teacher tells them that they’ll “just love” Pride and Prejudice or The Raven, it’s likely that they won’t give it a chance purely for spite. The time constraints that come with assigned reading may also have something to do with it. Not all students are fast readers, so while one night to read twenty pages may seem more than reasonable to one person, it may be a lot to ask of someone else.
Even the fastest of readers and most conscientious of students can get behind. High school students today are busier than ever, especially if they’re college-bound. They know that in addition to high grades and tough courses, they also need to have an impressive lineup of extracurricular activities. They play sports, they’re in student government, they’re taking SAT or ACT prep courses. Sometimes they have to triage which homework assignments get done in a night. It’s easier to fake having read a certain number of pages in a novel than it is to fake a chemistry lab or certain amount of calculus problems.
And finally, there’s the possibility that most high school students just aren’t emotionally ready for a lot of the literature they’re assigned. While their actual reading level may be appropriate for a novel like Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, it’s entirely possible that their emotional maturity and level of experience is not ideal for a novel of that depth. These students think they understand things like love and loss, and some of them may, but as they grow and learn to understand the world and themselves better, they’ll bring a new and valuable perspective to literature.
That being said, there is one novel that people should read for the first time in high school, or they shouldn’t read it at all and that novel is The Catcher in the Rye. J.D. Salinger’s most famous novel is told from the perspective of a frustrated teenage boy who hasn’t matured emotionally past the age of thirteen. An adolescent reader will likely identify and sympathize with Holden Caulfield, and come to revere Catcher in the Rye, but an adult is just as likely to find Holden insufferably annoying and give up on the book altogether.