Top 30 school reads to revisit

Posted by
Stylist Team
backgroundLayer 1
Add this article to your list of favourites

Remember reluctantly ploughing through Pride and Prejudice for your English GCSE or thinking Brontë and her endlessly brooding Heathcliff were, well, a bit boring? Asking a 14-year-old to wrestle with the enormity of major literary themes in double English is a bit like asking the coalition to run smoothly: unrealistic. But revisit these books with a dose of experience under your belt, and you undoubtedly see them as the literary classics they are. Below, we've selected the 30 best curriculum stalwarts to re-read...

Click on an image below to launch the gallery

  • Wuthering Heights

    by Emily Brontë

    As teenagers, we thought it was the worst love story we'd ever read: when they're not ranting at each other, they're having a huff. It's only now that we can appreciate Brontë's intense tale of love and revenge set on the Yorkshire Moors.

  • The Go-Between

    by LP Hartley

    This isn't just a coming-of-age story - it's also about memory and experience. How do we look back on our childhoods as adults? A brilliant and moving exploration of nostalgia that ages better than most of our memories.

  • A Room With A View

    by EM Forster

    If your memory of studying A Room With A View is giggling at a grainy video of naked men running through trees, you're not alone. But this beautifully written love story with evocative prose and knife-sharp British wit makes it even better than we remembered from school.

  • The Catcher In The Rye

    by JD Salinger

    Can we relate to disaffected youth as adults? Surprisingly, The Catcher In The Rye still strikes a chord. Maybe it's because we can finally understand Holden's desire to cling onto his childhood, or may it's because we realise that growing up doesn't give us all the answers.

  • Pride And Prejudice

    by Jane Austen

    It is a truth universally acknowledged that Mr Darcy made GCSE English more interesting, but as a teen you may not have noticed Austen's sharp and sometimes cruel humour. Not to mention the devastatingly honest summary of what it was like to be a woman at that time.

  • The Great Gatsby

    by F Scott Fitzgerald

    Despite the flawless prose and the countless glitzy soirees, there's an unsettling emptiness in Fitzgerald's prose which you might have missed on a first read, blinded by the sequins and champagne flutes.

  • Great Expectations

    by Charles Dickens

    The boy-done-good was the draw when we first read Great Expectations but the character that really intrigues as an adult is the aged and haunted Miss Havisham, robbed of her ability to love and left desperate for revenge.

  • Lord Of The Flies

    by William Golding

    The tale of a stranded group of boys' descent into savagery is shocking at an age, but read it now and you'll be struck by its extraordinary complexity. The hopelessness of human darkness? That might have been just a little too much for our teenage minds to hand.

  • Nineteen Eighty-Four

    by George Orwell

    Orwell's thriller about a totalitarian government controlling peoples' thoughts still lends itself to a scary number of modern comparions. You'll now pick up on the phrases Orwell invented - from newspeak to Big Brother - and find his comments on political spin riveting.

  • Far From The Madding Crowd

    by Thomas Hardy

    Since Tamara Drewe last year gave a new twist to this Hardy classic we've been itching to re-read the original. Tinged with tragedy (and quite a high body count), Hardy exposes the dangerous sides of love, the betrayals and the bitter endings.

  • The Handmaid's Tale

    by Margaret Atwood

    This bleak tale of a facist, futuristic US state where women are bartered for sexual servitude was nothing short of baffling for us as teenagers: but as adults, the casual mistreatment of women resonates strongly.

  • To Kill A Mockingbird

    by Harper Lee

    There's no denying that To Kill A Mockingbird was a thrilling read when we were young (one Stylist staffer even admits to a lifelong crush on one of the lead characters, Jem). Re-visit it now and you are able to appreciate even further the fine, witty prose and subtle mosaic of racial tension that underlies all aspects of the story.

  • Of Mice and Men

    by John Steinbeck

    As teens, we enjoyed the naughty language in this epic American novel. Years on and the central theme of fragile dreams - set amid a backdrop of the Great Depression but applicable everywhere - hits home in a much more poignant way.

  • The Color Purple

    by Alice Walker

    Walker's depiction of life for black women in the 1930s Deep South makes a lasting impression whatever your age. Re-read the novel now and you will once again experience a rollercoaster of emotions, from joy to sadness and outrage.

  • Empire Of The Sun

    by J. G. Ballard

    Most people will remember Christian Slater running around with a toy plane in the film version of this classroom classic but the book is ten times as satisfying. Moving, complex and elegantly written, it is a beautiful eulogy to war that can be read a dozen times without boredom.

  • Sons And Lovers

    by D. H. Lawrence

    Young readers may have enjoyed the oblique sexual references in D. H. Lawrence's earliest masterpiece, but the intensity of dialogue made it a challenging read. This captivating tale of social divides and sexuality is better absorbed in the context of an adult world.

  • Animal Farm

    by George Orwell

    We didn't object to the talking animals as teenagers - but equally, it was difficult to see what all the fuss was about. Re-visiting Orwell's classic now lends more far substance to the allegory of underlying corruption in Soviet Russia and the wider world.

  • The Woman In Black

    by Susan Hill

    A chilling ghost story will always go down well in the classroom, especially one which has a fantastic - and terrifying - West End adaptation to go with it. We challenge you not to be scared all over again with Hill's haunting elegy of a house with a secret.

  • Frankenstein

    by Mary Shelley

    Anyone who tackled Frankenstein will remember the numbing disappointment that came with realising that what promised to a juicy monster story was actually a pretty heavy read. But give it a whirl as an adult and you will be drawn to the human elements of Shelley's novel - such as injustice towards outsiders.

  • Howard's End

    by E. M. Forster

    If you're anything like us, your early memories of Howard's End will involve Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. It's only with a re-read that we now recognise the novel - redolent with Downton Abbey-esque issues of class and social etiquette - for the modern masterpiece it is.

  • The French Lieutenant’s Woman

    by John Fowles

    With three different endings to choose from, The French Lieutenant’s Woman is far from a straight-forward read. But what seemed to us as teenagers to be slow, difficult -to -digest text has magically transformed itself into a compelling read. The main character Sarah Woodruff is particularly captivating as an enigmatic manipulater/victim figure.

  • The Strange Case Of Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde

    by Robert Louis Stevenson

    A dark but brilliant portrayal of split personality disorder, Dr Jekyll And Mr Hyde makes for a winning curriculum text. And it only gets better with age - we will never tire of that chilling passage where Hyde is seen bashing a man to death with a heavy cane, before rapidly morphing into the respectable Dr. Jekyll once again. Classic.

  • Cat's Eye

    by Margaret Atwood

    Sure, so we were sort of interested in Atwood's rich tale of childhood bullying in English Lit. lessons, but it was not exactly a highlight. Read as a grown-up, however, and the book comes alive with subtle metaphors, all pointing to the lingering effect of mental abuse on adult life.

  • Rebecca

    by Daphne du Maurier

    "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again" - it's the one quote we never forgot come essay time. And du Maurier's celebrated novel stays with us in adulthood. With mystery, horror, romance, and suspense competing for attention, it's hard to resist a re-read.

  • The Bell Jar

    by Sylvia Plath

    Telling the story of a young woman’s coming-of-age, The Bell Jar explores a plethora of heavy issues - including suicide, rape, psychiatry and the fallacy of conventional expectations. A lot to throw at a teenager, but as an adult you couldn't ask for a more fascinating read.

  • Captain Corelli's Mandolin

    by Louis de Bernières

    Granted, Nicolas Cage brought a different slant to this modern classic - yet the meat of Louis de Bernières' moving war-time tale is found in the book rather than the film. As an A-level text, it seemed like a bit of a slow burner; read it now and you will not be let down by this complex tale of love and lust set against a backdrop of conflict.

  • Beloved

    by Toni Morrison

    Morrison's Beloved opened up a whole new world of discovery to us as secondary school students. Back then, it was the graphic violence and sex references that grabbed our attention - now it's the angry and heart-breaking portrayal of slavery and racism that makes for compulsive reading.

  • The Grass Is Singing

    by Doris Lessing

    Set in apartheid South Africa, Doris Lessing's landmark 1950 novel deals with uncomfortable concepts of revenge, self-delusion and institutionalized racism. Written mostly in the form of a flashback, it is best read as an adult - both for a greater understanding of the failed marriage at the centre of the book, and also its historical context.

  • Silas Marner: The Weaver of Raveloe

    by George Eliot

    For high school students, Eliot's story of a reclusive weaver is a gentle warm-up to the author's epic masterpiece Middlemarch, but it is still a fairly hefty read. Concepts of individuality, faith and destiny are better understood and enjoyed from a perspective of an adult reader.

  • Brave New World

    by Aldous Huxley

    Aldous Huxley's dystopian tale of lost identity and political corruption is a somewhat dubious sell in a classroom context. But in the adult world of expecting so much from society and government, it suddenly becomes much more relevant and the parody much more clear.


Share this article


Stylist Team