Help me unf*ck this reading list
May 13, 2016 12:13 PM   Subscribe

So...my 10th-grader's school has released the list of possible summer reading books, from which he has to pick one to read and review. As you might imagine, there is A Problem.

The problem is that with the exception of The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan and Emma by Jane Austin (gag, sorry Austenites), ALL of the books are stories by men about men. (OK, Pearl Buck's The Good Earth but it's still about a dude and Great Hera we won't even speak of Ayn Rand) Now, I'm not saying these aren't good books, but for fuck's sake where are the women's voices and stories. Here's the list...help me unf*ck it to provide a matched book of similar setting/content but differing perspective for each one! (The listing of nationality is the school's doing, not mine). ReadySetGO!

Latin American
The Alchemist by Paulo Coehlo

Middle Eastern
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Russian
Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

Chinese American
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

Chinese
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

German
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

American
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
A Spell for Chameleon by Piers Anthony
Dune by Frank Herbert

Native American
Fools Crow by James Welch

Afghan American
West of Kabul, East of New York: An Afghan American Story by Tamim Ansary

African American
A Lesson before Dying by Ernest T. Gaines

Jewish American
The Chosen by Chaim Potok

Russian American
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand

British
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
The Once and Future King by T.H. White
Emma by Jane Austen

French
The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo
The Count of Monte Cristo (abridged) by Alexandre Dumas
posted by SinAesthetic to Writing & Language (69 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
 
Do you want matched genre/theme or matched cultural background?
Margaret Atwood is pretty close to Aldous Huxley in genre/theme, but obviously the authors come from totally different times and places.
posted by miyabo at 12:20 PM on May 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


As an aside, you might want to also address the fact that Piers Anthony is a creepy fucking pedo.

For african american writers pls see the entire Lemonade syllabus.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:23 PM on May 13, 2016 [35 favorites]


Louise Erdrich for Native American? I'm afraid I can't recall the reading level/appropriateness of content for a particular novel, but she's lovely.
posted by xingcat at 12:24 PM on May 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


I think I need more info for this. Are you going to be pitching these books to the school as alternatives for your son and other students to read? In that case you should be very familiar with the curriculum and know why it is the school picked these: Use of literary devices? Historic themes? It's possible the students will be tested on these books in the fall and be expected to know the important literary merit they have for the upcoming class, so having a list of other books that teach the same general material will help sell your position better.

Is this just for your son's edification and to offer him an alternative to read on his own? Then I need to know what sort of books he likes to read. :-)
posted by chainsofreedom at 12:24 PM on May 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


I think I need more info for this. Are you going to be pitching these books to the school as alternatives for your son and other students to read? In that case you should be very familiar with the curriculum and know why it is the school picked these: Use of literary devices? Historic themes? It's possible the students will be tested on these books in the fall and be expected to know the important literary merit they have for the upcoming class, so having a list of other books that teach the same general material will help sell your position better.

Is this just for your son's edification and to offer him an alternative to read on his own? Then I need to know what sort of books he likes to read. :-)


In my fantasy world, I would point out to the school the grievous error of their ways and they would capitulate to my will. In reality, I live in a southern red state and it will probably just be for my son's edification and an alternative for him to read on his own. He likes things that are engaging, slightly macabre, and weird.
posted by SinAesthetic at 12:29 PM on May 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


Also, the Kite Runner is written by a Canadian and set primarily in South Asia, so you might also point out that this isn't middle eastern by any definition.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:32 PM on May 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


Really, Piers Anthony? I admit I've enjoyed his oversexed, overly violent books, but he's the exact opposite of a good literary example for representing women and relationships with women.

Dragonflight
, the first of Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series may do as an equivalent fantasy theme, but with a strong female protagonist.
posted by lizbunny at 12:34 PM on May 13, 2016 [13 favorites]


Isabel Allende's Daughter of Fortune.
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:34 PM on May 13, 2016 [7 favorites]


I don't really understand how you immediately excepted the two books by women, telling women's stories, as not counting. I mean... there *isn't* a dearth of books by women, telling women's stories. I wish there were more than two, but there aren't, so.

Is the idea that, instead of reading The Joy Luck Club (such a good book, don't understand what your issue is with it) or Emma (also a good book, don't understand what your issue is with it), you want to make a case to the school that your kid should get to read a different book that is also by a woman, telling a story about women? I mean, if I worked for the school, I'd say "Hey have you noticed The Joy Luck Club and Emma? Why can't your kid read those?"

But, if this is just a fun game of listing books by women, here are my thoughts (no idea whether any of this is "appropriate" for 10th graders by school board standards):

Latin American
In The House Of The Spirits, by Isabel Allende

Middle Eastern
(my real problem with the reading list is that they think Afghanistan is in the Middle East!)
Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi

Russian
Something by Svetlana Alexeievich (sorry not familiar enough with her to recommend a title, but she just won the Nobel Prize for literature)

Chinese-American
If you're really opposed to Amy Tan for some reason, I'd go with The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong-Kingston I guess? Similar Classic Of Asian-American Literature kind of stature.

Chinese
No suggestions but am annoyed that they consider a book by a white American which is set in China to be "Chinese". I do remember liking The Good Earth in high school, though.

German
I think categories like this are pretty hard, just because not a lot of non-Anglophone writers make it into the American high school canon in the first place, let alone women. I feel like this is probably where they would recommend The Diary Of Anne Frank, despite the fact that she was Dutch.

American
Literally any book by a white lady in a bookstore I guess

Native American
Tracks, by Louise Erdrich

Afghan-American
I don't know that there are a ton of Afghan-American writers in general, so what about Minaret by Leila Aboulela? She's Sudanese-British, but maybe it scratches a similar itch? Other "Muslim female writers in a diaspora context" ideas might be Mohja Kahf or Randa Jarrar.

African-American
Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston duh

Jewish-American
The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant, though it's a historical novel and not form a particularly American slant.

Russian-American
ummmmmmmmmm The Endless Steppe, by Esther Hautzig? No idea if Esther Hautzig later emigrated to the US, but maybe???? Also this is YA. Are there really that many Russian-American novelists aside from turning Ayn Rand into some kind of figurehead? Really not sure why they call Ayn Rand "Russian-American" but all the Americans get to just live without hyphens. It's not like The Fountainhead is about Russia or anything.

British
White Teeth, by Zadie Smith
Jane Eyre, by some Bronte or something

French
Something by Marguerite Duras or Simone du Beauvoir?
posted by Sara C. at 12:41 PM on May 13, 2016 [17 favorites]


For African American I might sub-in the Patternist series by Octavia Butler (Well, at least Wild Seed -- if he catches the bug there's more).
posted by sparklemotion at 12:41 PM on May 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


Also, the Kite Runner is written by a Canadian and set primarily in South Asia

Khaled Hosseini was born in Afghanistan and lives in the US. As far as I know, he has no particular ties to Canada.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:45 PM on May 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


Disrec Beauvoir for the French, for the simple reason that most of the translations of her work are flat terrible. Also, Jane Eyre is a crashing bore, he'd be better off reading Pride and Prejudice.
posted by Tamanna at 12:49 PM on May 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


Chinese

Anchee Min is American (born in China), but Empress Orchid is a beautiful account of the life of an important woman in Chinese history.
posted by sparklemotion at 12:52 PM on May 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


I understand if you don't want to be "the liberal feminist mom" in the place where you live, but I beg of you, please tell them how inappropriate A Spell for Chameleon is for a high school reading list. It contains a plot where a woman's rape is excused because she's too beautiful for men not to rape her. It also contains a plot where a woman can be beautiful or smart but never both, but in the end she's supposed to be happy about it because "no man could ever love just one woman" and she changes "with the moon". There are "hilarious" incidents where the main character (the protagonist! Who you're supposed to like!) commits various sexual assaults. The book is pure rape culture.

It was one of my favorite books when I was a preteen girl. It also kind of messed me up.

I also don't understand why it is on the American list. Do the books have to be novels? If not, I suggest a collection of Emily Dickinson poems.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 12:54 PM on May 13, 2016 [36 favorites]


I don't really understand how you immediately excepted the two books by women, telling women's stories, as not counting.

I think you're totally misinterpreting what the OP said - I think their issue is the fact that those are the only two books on a huge list that count, not that they "don't count." (And I think the 'ugh' was only for Emma, not Joy Luck Club.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:56 PM on May 13, 2016 [9 favorites]


Persepolis, for sure. It's an autobiographical graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi about growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution.
posted by amnesia and magnets at 12:58 PM on May 13, 2016 [16 favorites]


How strange. I would have sworn he was Canadian, though I wasn't sure if he was also born in Afghanistan. I wonder who I'm confusing him with.

s the idea that, instead of reading The Joy Luck Club (such a good book, don't understand what your issue is with it) or Emma (also a good book, don't understand what your issue is with it), you want to make a case to the school that your kid should get to read a different book that is also by a woman, telling a story about women? I mean, if I worked for the school, I'd say "Hey have you noticed The Joy Luck Club and Emma? Why can't your kid read those?"

I think the point is that if you want to read a male perspective you have over a dozen choices and if you want to read a female perspective you have 2. It seems highly probably that if you have to choose between two books, they might both be books you're not interested in. Whereas once you're up to 15, it seems like you'll probably be able to find one you want to read.

I hope OP that you will point this out to the school. I don't imagine they'll capitulate to your will, but it's still worth doing. There's at tiny chance they'll give it some thought next year.

The Diviners by Margaret Lawrence has two prominent Metis characters though the narrator is white. Not sure if this is enough to classify at as "Native American" especially since i don't believe the author is Metis herself.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:59 PM on May 13, 2016


I guess Frankenstein by Mary Shelley wouldn't make your cut, since it's about men (though it is macabre and weird). Flannery O'Connor definitely goes macabre and weird, but I'm thinking more of the short stories, particularly "A Good Man is Hard to Find" and "Good Country People."

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez. Alvarez is Dominican-American, and the book is set in the Dominican Republic.

Agree that I don't understand your problem with Jane Austen and Amy Tan, though I think it would be worthwhile to point out the small number of women on the list.

Red state or not, they do seem to be making an attempt at diversity in the reading list. Perhaps they just weren't thinking about gender and you could point that out to them in a friendly way.
posted by FencingGal at 12:59 PM on May 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


I can only speak to a couple of these:
A Spell for Chameleon: yuck, yuck, [expletive deleted] what is with these people? It is a toxic book, as is just about everything Anthony wrote. Anyway, best replaced with Robin McKinnley's The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown. Yes, The Hero and the Crown won a Newbury, but it's more mature and reasonable than anything Anthony could ever dream up. Fire and Hemlock by Dianna Wynne Jones is also good.

Dune: It really depends if you're looking for weird religion and space opera, Ancillary Justice (and the rest of the series) is amazing. Beyond the fantastic prose and story, the default pronoun (in fact the pronoun used almost exclusively) is she. It makes for interesting reading. I can't think of a space opera with medieval style nobility, etc. written by a woman, but that is probably a lack of reading much space opera on my part.

If you really object to Emma or even Austen, you could always have him read Jane Eyre.
posted by Hactar at 1:02 PM on May 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


American: Tony Morrison. Such a great author and I think she was the first black woman author to win a Nobel Prize.
posted by Milau at 1:03 PM on May 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


Really not sure why they call Ayn Rand "Russian-American" but all the Americans get to just live without hyphens.

She was an immigrant and the subject matter of much, if not most, of her work is a direct response to her and her family's experiences of the Communist Revolution.
posted by griphus at 1:06 PM on May 13, 2016 [10 favorites]


[Couple comments removed. This is Ask, please focus on helping the asker out with their question, save the arguments for some other context.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:10 PM on May 13, 2016


Oh, for Jewish-American, maybe Ozick's The Shawl and Rosa. They're both short stories but they add up to a novella that is definitely both Jewish (Shawl takes place during the Holocaust) and American (Rosa takes place in Florida.)
posted by griphus at 1:10 PM on May 13, 2016


Jephte's Daughter is also great but most of the book takes place in Jerusalem, although the protag is jewish american. idk if that would disqualify it from your needs here?
posted by poffin boffin at 1:13 PM on May 13, 2016


In high school we read Brave New World back to back with Handmaid's Tale, they're thematically linked.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:14 PM on May 13, 2016 [6 favorites]


I guess Frankenstein by Mary Shelley wouldn't make your cut, since it's about men (though it is macabre and weird).

I'll put in a little plug for Frankenstein because it's a good window into the fascinating life of Mary Shelley herself.
posted by sparklemotion at 1:17 PM on May 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


Here's a possible alternate list:

Latin American
Laura Esquivel, Like Water for Chocolate

Middle Eastern
Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran
And

Russian
Olga Grushin, The Dream Life of Sukhanov

Asian American
Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior

Chinese
Eileen Chang, Love in a Fallen City

German
Anna Seghers, The Seventh Cross

American
Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch
Maya Angelou, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings (nonfiction)
Jennifer Egan, A Visit From the Goon Squad
Toni Morison, Beloved
Katharine Ann Porter, Ship of Fools
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Native American
Debra Magpie Earling, Perma Red

Afghan American
Nadia Hashimi, The Pearl That Broke Its Spell

African American
So many! See the Toni Morison and Maya Angelou recommendations above. Also Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

Jewish American
Deborah Eisneberg, The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisneberg

Russian American
Lara Vapnyar, There are Jews in My House

British
Zadie Smith, White Teeth
A.S. Byatt, The Childrens Book
ANYTHING by Austen!!
George Eliot, Middlemarch et al.

French
Collette, Gigi
Caroline LaMarche, The Day of the Dog
posted by bearwife at 1:18 PM on May 13, 2016 [23 favorites]


lizbunny, Dragonflight has some rape-y stuff in it, does't it? I thought the "Harper Hall" books, about a teen girl, would be better -- it's why I re-read them recently (to scout them out for sharing with my kids)
posted by wenestvedt at 1:30 PM on May 13, 2016


Persian/Iranian-American: The Blood of Flowers, by Anita Amirrezvani
Chinese-American: Three Souls, by Janie Chang
posted by jackbishop at 1:31 PM on May 13, 2016


Chiming in to third or fourth the suggestion that even if you do nothing else about the list, please try to get A Spell For Chameleon removed. The ideas about women (and men) in that book are so messed up.
posted by Kriesa at 1:32 PM on May 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is non-fiction, but for Jewish American I'd highly recommend Stephanie Levine's Mystics, Mavericks, and Merrymakers: An Intimate Journey Among Hasidic Girls. It's by a secular Jew writing about Hasidic Jewish teenagers, and she does quite a lot of reflection on her own religious/spiritual journey in addition to describing the teens in the community. And, although it is technically the result of an academic study, the writing is very accessible (not really any academic jargon that I can recall) and it might be interesting to a high schooler since teens are at the center of the story.

I definitely agree with those who mentioned the Imperial Radch series by Ann Leckie as a substitute for Dune -- in addition to being written by a woman, the book has a really interesting take on gender in general (technically, there are no women characters because no one in the books has a gender, but there are also no men characters, so I think that all evens out...)

A Tale for the Time Being
by Ruth Ozeki. This doesn't really fit in with anything specific on your list, but since you mentioned your son likes "weird" books, I think this one definitely fits -- one of those that has a growing sense of "What is going on?!" as the book continues. One of the main characters is a teenage girl, although this is definitely not "young adult." (Fair warning - there is quite a bit of suicidal ideation/attempts as well as some sex/prostitution. I didn't find it more graphic/upsetting than the Kite Runner, but I'm not sure what your comfort level would be here.)
posted by rainbowbrite at 1:34 PM on May 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


Speaking of a wonderful book by a woman on gender identity, let me toss in one of the wonderful Ursula LeGuin's best, The Left Hand of Darkness.
posted by bearwife at 1:36 PM on May 13, 2016 [13 favorites]


This is also nonfiction/biography, but for Chinese you could read Wild Swans, by Jung Chang.
posted by chainsofreedom at 1:57 PM on May 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri to add an Indian female perspective.
posted by DuckGirl at 2:24 PM on May 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


Sorry, I just spotted a stupid typo by me in my list: it is Nadia Hashimi, The Pearl That Broke Its Shell
posted by bearwife at 2:24 PM on May 13, 2016


Also, I couldn't find a good place to put her in the list, but no one should miss reading the amazing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Her perspective is that of a feminist Nigerian transplanted to the US.
posted by bearwife at 2:26 PM on May 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


Ladies Telling Lady Stories: I love love love me some Octavia Butler, and I'm not sure what 10th grader wouldn't benefit from The Parable of the Sower or Kindred. If you go the Margaret Atwood route, I really think the Maddaddam series is more accessible/weird/entertaining to this age group than others of her ouvre. (Yessss on The Left Hand of Darkness.)

Asian-American: I'm very surprised that no one has mentioned American Born Chinese yet, or anything by Gene Luen. I haven't had a chance to read Boxers/Saints yet, but I hear such things. I'd also squeeze some Ted Chiang in there, not because his stories have anything at all to do with cultural identity, but because they're amazing and I would kill to have been exposed to them in tenth grade. Lynda Barry is also the shizz-nit (I file her here, though she's far-reaching, since she has written extensively about her Filipino grandmother). The Greatest of Marlys and One Hundred Demons are probably the most age-appropriate, deal with racial identity and being a teenager and being a girl and...oh my goodness, I need to read them all again.

Russian: If he's a big reader, Dostoevsky is seriously the shit, but for the weirder side of things, may I humbly suggest Heart of a Dog by Bulgakov? Shorter than Master and Margarita, easier to read, both profane and hilarious by turns (is there a BETTER description of a teenage boy?)

Don't know if it ticks any of your cultural boxes, but have you considered sneaking some China Mielville in there, to counteract any budding objectivism? I'd rather have a raving socialist/steampunky high schooler to deal with than a libertarian.
posted by theweasel at 2:26 PM on May 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


Oops, was listing alternatives by area rather than by female-centricity. A few more, then:

The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi (British/Nigerian magical realism/horror) and Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor (post-apocalyptic African fantasy. SO GOOD. She has a few more out that are next up on my reading list). The Ear, The Eye and the Arm is probably too young for your kid and author isn't African, but I list it for anyone browsing in the future who wants books with black main characters and science fiction/fantasy elements. Literally broke up the conservative Christian middle school I attended in 7th grade because it treated African spiritualism as legitimate and the parents had a hissy fit. Nancy Farmer should be proud.

If not Emma, why not Persuasion (I too am not fond of Emma, but are we dismissing all of Jane Austen here? Must we quarrel?)?

Also, okay, not by a woman but is the Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian not required reading in the whole of our good land? AND WHY NOT?
posted by theweasel at 2:43 PM on May 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


I am a librarian and I am begging you to at least challenge A Spell for Chameleon. I loved Xanth and Piers Anthony's other books series as a tween and teen and it seriously fucked up my views of sex and relationships (I'm a straight woman). This book should not be included on pretty much any high school reading list, I say with 20/20 hindsight. There are plenty of other fantasy novels that include wordplay and ties with the actual world that Xanth does really well-- I really dislike fantasy now so I'll let others suggest-- and omit the creepy sexual stuff in Piers Anthony.
posted by holyrood at 2:54 PM on May 13, 2016 [15 favorites]


> Russian
Something by Svetlana Alexeievich (sorry not familiar enough with her to recommend a title, but she just won the Nobel Prize for literature)


In the first place, Alexievich (sp.) is not Russian but Belarusian. More importantly, her books are incredibly depressing and often brutal oral histories not even remotely suitable for kids. Please, people, don't recommend what you don't know. There are not a lot of Russian novels by women (for complicated historical and cultural reasons), but there are great short story collections by, e.g., Teffi (Subtly Worded) and Tatyana Tolstaya (White Walls).

For Russian American, I highly recommend Sana Krasikov's One More Year. (Well, adult themes, I guess; you will want to read it yourself to make sure it's suitable, but you won't regret reading it!)
posted by languagehat at 2:58 PM on May 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


House on Mango Street.

Sanders Cisneros. It's on the reading list in Florida.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:10 PM on May 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


German: Stones from the River.
posted by salvia at 3:22 PM on May 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


If you're interested in something non-Austen/Bronte but from around the same time period then I'd recommend North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell: it focuses on some of the same major political debates as today, which is pretty fascinating; it's set in an industrial city; and it's nice to spread the word that other really good women authors also existed.
posted by trig at 3:27 PM on May 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


In my fantasy world, I would point out to the school the grievous error of their ways and they would capitulate to my will. In reality, I live in a southern red state

As a person who oversees summer reading lists for a school, it really might be worth sending along your list to the teacher(s) who compiled the original list. Of course my experiences are not universal, but we would really welcome this kind of (thoughtful, considered) input from parents - ESPECIALLY if you're suggesting specific titles to include, rather than just complaining.

I'll also posit that a school that makes an effort to represent writers from a variety of cultural/ethnic backgrounds is probably not as backwards as you think; I see A LOT of summer reading lists that are exclusively white dudes, and your son's school has at least gone a step beyond that. (Baby steps!)
posted by goodbyewaffles at 3:36 PM on May 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


Your son might enjoy Kage Baker's work. I certainly did.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:41 PM on May 13, 2016 [3 favorites]


American - Howsabout Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, or The Member of the Wedding. Both feature adolescent girls as major characters.

French - Male author, but it's hard to beat Madame Bovary for a woman's story.

​Latin American - Something by Clarice Lispector? I have no idea if she's written anything appropriate for 10th graders, however.​
posted by jabes at 3:43 PM on May 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


As a person who oversees summer reading lists for a school, it really might be worth sending along your list to the teacher(s) who compiled the original list.

Also, send them a brief description of the book, mention awards it's won, and find some good lesson plans to link.

Teachers are much more likely to take a look if they know lesson plans already exist.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 3:57 PM on May 13, 2016 [4 favorites]


Pearl S. Buck's Pavillion of Women is one of my all-time favourites - and I found it because of the Good Earth.
posted by peagood at 4:11 PM on May 13, 2016


Jewish-American: Absolutely recommend 'The Golem and the Jinni' by Helene Wecker. Some fantasy elements, obviously, but at its heart this is historical fiction set in turn of the century New York City and is absolutely fantastic.

German American: 'The Vision of Emma Blau' by Ursula Hegi. Several of her other books touch upon a series of related characters, each telling the story of one of them in the post-war period. This is about the brother of a series character who moves to America. The titular Emma is his granddaughter who inherits his dream and tries to reconcile it to her modern world.

African American: 'Silver Sparrow' by Tayari Jones. The two main characters are both the daughters of the same man: one the legitimate daughter of his marriage, and the other the secret daughter he had in his bigamist second household. Only one of the girls knows the true nature of their friendship...
posted by JoannaC at 4:23 PM on May 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


For your Middle East list (Egypt): I was assigned Nawal al-Saadawi's Woman at Point Zero in tenth grade or thereabouts, and thought it was terrific. Rape, prostitution, violence, though.
posted by col_pogo at 5:18 PM on May 13, 2016


For African American, I don't know if it's a done-to-death choice but I absolutely loved The Color Purple.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:39 PM on May 13, 2016


wenestvedt - ugh, I forgot about that, been a while since I read Dragonflight. I still think Lessa is a formidable character though.
posted by lizbunny at 5:45 PM on May 13, 2016


Jewish American: Pearl Abraham's( who was raised Hasid) The Romance Reader

African American :Gloria Naylor's The Women of Brewster Place; Linden Hills; Mama Day; Bailey's Cafe

Middle-Eastern American...Mahtob Mahmoody (the daughter of Not Without My Daughter) has just published a memoir. She is a devout Lutheran.

Firoozeh Dumas' Funny in Farsi; Laughing Without an Accent ( when American kids asked her to teach them Farsi curse words she responded with the Farsi for " I'm an idiot".
posted by brujita at 5:55 PM on May 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


Latin American
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
How the García Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez

Middle Eastern
The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (this is a widely acclaimed graphic novel)
Dreams of Trespass by Fatima Mernissi

Chinese American
The Joy Luck Club is good, no problem here, but you could also recommend ....
The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

American
The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed, or even A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula K. Le Guin (please, please beg them to replace Piers Anthony with something -- anything--by Ursula K. Le Guin)
The Awakening by Kate Chopin (not only did I enjoy this as a high-schooler, I also remember it fondly as "the book that will work for any given AP English test essay topic")

Native American
Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
Tracks by Louise Erdrich

African American
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkins
Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

Jewish American
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

British
Jane Austen is A+ doublegood! Also good for this age range:
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

ALSO...

Canadian
Oryx and Crake or The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

African
Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Indian American
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
posted by ourobouros at 6:33 PM on May 13, 2016 [14 favorites]


We read margaret atwood's cats eye in high school. It had a much bigger impact on me than did handmaids tale or her most recent work.

I also came by to suggest the work of nadine gordimer.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 7:16 PM on May 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


For "Jewish American" I would say "Enormous Changes at the Last Minute," by Grace Paley, or really any of her story collections. Her writing is extremely focused on Jews, extremely focused on women, and is funny, and is short. And she's a literary titan in a way that Chaim Potok is certainly not (nothing against Chaim Potok.)

Zadie Smith would be a great choice for "British" -- imagine talking about contemporary British fiction at all without including her! -- but I would go with NW. It's not as well-known as White Teeth, but it has more stuff about kids, teenagers, and college students, and I think it would be a better choice for 10th graders.

For African American: Toni Morrison is great, of course, but maybe too hard for 10th graders? I wasn't ready until college and I was super-bookish. What about Claudia Rankine's Citizen? It's contemporary, there's a lot of sports in it, and it would fix the problem that there is zero poetry of any kind on that list.

For "American" -- Edith Wharton is about the most American American novelist there is, and is a high school curriculum stalwart. The House of Mirth and The Custom of the Country both center on the complicated lives of young American women as they navigate money and marriage. They are kind of brutal, yes, but brutal in the way that I think works for adolescents, not brutal in the "I wouldn't let my kid see this until they're older" Svetlana Alexievich way.
posted by escabeche at 8:34 PM on May 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


For 'German' Heinrich Böll might be worth looking into, for instance Group Portrait with Lady or The Lost Honour of Katherine Blum. I'm not sure how suitable either would be for the age group, though, since it's been ages since I've read them.
posted by rjs at 11:52 PM on May 13, 2016


Curriculum decisions are made way up high usually. Before you charge ahead with this completely worthwhile cause, check with head of the English department. These may be required books and your school has no choice but to teach them.

I'm a high school teacher and the English teachers mostly hate the books they have to teach, but they HAVE to teach them.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 3:53 AM on May 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Re Emma, if you get him to read it as a horror novel, it is much more engrossing. I read that interrogation once, re read it, my least favorite of her books and it utterly changed how I experienced it for the better. Emma is a tragic heroine, trapped by the social and financial constraints of her position to live an utterly constrained life although she year's for more throughout the book and is clearly capable of so much more. All she ends up with is being passed from the caprices of her controlling hypochondriac father to her grooming controlling father's estate manger, all her attempts to exert control thwarted and she ends the novel bound and defeated. If you read it looking for Emma's attempts to carve out independence, it is brutal.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 3:55 AM on May 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


The Bell Jar
posted by brujita at 7:08 PM on May 14, 2016


I've bookmarked several reading lists in this vein. There's a lot of nonfiction, but all the books are by women.

12 books to keep your feminism intersectional

7 Books Every Intersectional Feminist Should Read

13 Contemporary Feminist Books To Build A Fantastically Empowering Reading List
posted by runningwithscissors at 8:26 PM on May 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


Interesting list you've been provided. As I recall, a lot of the AP English classes focused on books that were allowed for use on the AP literature exams. The key criteria is what AP calls 'literary merit.' You may wish to review 2016's free response question 3, which calls out several books as having sufficient merit. The following might meet your criteria and theirs:

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The Women of Brewster Place
Beloved by Toni Morrison

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Wurthering Heights by the other Bronte
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Emma by Jane Austen

Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edward
The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

A Dolls House by Henrik Ibsen

Notably, the AP list is way more balanced than your provided list. An optimistic interpretation is a teacher trying to trying to keep more boys in the advanced track -- I recall my classes being rather imbalanced and that the assigned readings at least felt rather women oriented. More likely, this might be a sign that you personally gonna have a rough year with this teacher.
posted by pwnguin at 10:55 PM on May 14, 2016


Afghanistan used as "Middle East" is really unforgivably wrong, so at the minimum that's a reason to complain.

But as tenth graders, I think probably a lot of the students are in a position to complain themselves, no?
I think your son would be well served by your discussing your objections with him and then if he wants to advocate for change, provide him with tools and guidance to do so.
posted by zutalors! at 10:30 AM on May 16, 2016


UPDATE: So, I crafted a respectful note to the head of the English department outlining my concerns, and actually received a great reply. She acknowledged the issue and said that they are working to change it, but are hamstrung somewhat by lack of funds to purchase books and state guidelines. She said that my son could read any of the books on my "alternate" list(!) and even gave additional suggestions(!) The only disappointing bit was this:

"In reference to A Spell for Chameleon, I must admit that Anthony is not a favorite author of mine, but that this book was specifically added after it was requested by a number of students who wanted us to add it to our choices. As a fantasy novel, it attracts a fairly consistent readership among our students who have read Manga and other fantasy genres." :( I mean, let's just let the elementary kids eat Pixie Stix for lunch, too. 'Cause, you know, that's what they want. Boo. But overall, the response was better than I expected--thanks to everyone who helped me put together a great list!
posted by SinAesthetic at 11:37 AM on May 16, 2016 [9 favorites]


Was it male students who requested the Piers Anthony? Because Anthony's work adheres to a lot of the really awful sexist nonetheless-popular lolicon/moe manga shit that is heavily marketed at young men.

Add me as another voice to the chorus as someone who read Piers Anthony as an adolescent and had it fuck me up for years. There is a wide booming menagerie of wonderful manga-influenced fantasy/scifi teen literature now available. There is no reason to subject them to the insidiously poisonous shit that is Piers Anthony's masturbatory fantasy. If I were in your position I would write the English department head again, including some of these links, and literally beg them to use anything except Piers Anthony. Better Ayn Rand than Anthony, I swear to God.
posted by nicebookrack at 8:50 PM on May 16, 2016 [2 favorites]


Aaaand of course I neglected to actually include the Piers Anthony links. Here:

Revisiting the sad, misogynistic fantasy of Xanth, which discusses A Spell for Chameleon specifically and has its own MeFi thread
Themes of Pedophilia in the Works of Piers Anthony
The most horrifying thing Piers Anthony has ever written
posted by nicebookrack at 8:54 PM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


The Golden Compass has a very realistic but totally non-skeezy romantic relationship between children if you're looking for a contrast. (Written by a man but with excellent female characters.)
posted by miyabo at 9:16 PM on May 16, 2016


If you're trying to replace the Piers Anthony with another fantasy book that might appeal to boys, some suggestions (in addition to Ursula K. Le Guin):

by Neal Gaiman:
- Neverwhere
- Stardust

by Lev Grossman:
- The Magicians. Note that it does have some adult content, so you might want to check it out first to make sure you're comfortable with it. It's kind of like a darker, more grown-up Harry Potter story.
posted by ourobouros at 5:41 AM on May 17, 2016


If only I had a penguin... - maybe you were thinking of Omar El-Akkad?
posted by magnusbe at 5:51 AM on April 16, 2017


« Older Why are animals, small children, and musicians...   |   Why would you wear a respirator in a flooded urban... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.