2018 Freshman Summer Reading

English I Overview

The freshman year of high school is an odyssey for students.

Because students at Princeton High School come from different schools, places, and backgrounds, they all have the power to contribute equally to our community of learners. Together, we will create a community of learning that extends beyond the walls of the classroom and that will support students as they develop the foundations for college-level reading, writing, and thinking.  Students will engage in the rigorous study of a variety of modes of expression and genres and, by the end of Freshman year, they will have developed ideas to help answer the following essential questions:

  • How does literature help us learn about the journey of life?
  • How does the individual interact with his/her community, and why are these interactions necessary for survival and well-being of all involved?

Summer Reading

The freshman summer reading assignment is the first opportunity for students to take ownership of their learning and engage with our community of learners.  As a result, we are offering summer reading texts that inform and entertain students about the ancient world (as preparation for their study of The Odyssey) and about their world today.

Our choices for this year’s summer reading represent our philosophy:   Reading informs our world.  It allows us to develop ideas, values, perceptions, and understandings of the world that was, is, and could be.  With this assignment, we welcome incoming freshman to join us in our appreciation for literature and humanity. 


 Excerpt from A Father’s Final Odyssey by Daniel Mendelsohn, Non-Fiction

 Daniel Mendelsohn, a professor at Bard College and a longtime contributor to The New York Review of Books, published his recent memoir, An Odyssey: A ­Father, a Son, and an Epic, in September, 2017. The required reading for freshmen students is NOT the full book; rather, the rising 9th grade students ONLY NEED TO READ THE EXCERPT that can be found in the April 24, 2017 edition of The New Yorker.    


CHOOSE at least ONE of the following twelve books, but feel free to read as many as you like!

Agamemnon by Aeschylus

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

The Iliad by Homer

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

An Odyssey:  A Father, a Son, and an Epic by Daniel Mendelsohn (the full book, from which the above excerpt is taken)

The Chosen by Chaim Potok

Electra by Sophocles

This One Summer by Jiillian Tamaki & Mariko Tamaki

Honor Girl  by Maggie Thrash

Boxers by Gene Luen Yang

Saints by Gene Luen Yang

Teacher Reviews

What freshman teachers and others are saying about these literary works… 

I love Agamemnon and/or Electra.  This father and daughter deal with the devastating effects of the Trojan War on their family.  Each play tells a different side of the same journey…a journey of love, fear, war, betrayal.  It is a sad story…but an important one that shows how the decisions of a few can affect the lives of so many." 

In The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Arnold, aka “Junior,” is a 14-year-old cartoonist who lives on a Spokane Indian reservation.  Arnold was born with brain damage due to alcoholic parents, and his life on the reservation has been spent surrounded by poverty, alcoholism, death, and disappointment.  Nevertheless, “Junior” is a dreamer on a journey in this novel that is as heartbreaking as it is humorous.  The way that Alexie captures “Junior’s” voice and incorporates his artwork throughout the book is phenomenal.

Homegoing is a multi-generational historical fiction novel that opens in eighteenth-century Ghana and focuses on two half-sisters who are separated by fate and destined to live quite different lives.  One sister lives a life of ease and comfort in a Cape Coast Castle while her sister is imprisoned beneath in its dungeons.  The novel follows their descendants over three hundred years and two continents.  You will love this book because of its carefully crafted language and the connection you will make with the characters as you journey with them.

In The Iliad, Homer masterfully recounts the ways in which one warrior can turn the tide of a ten-year battle.  This is a tale about a lost love, a jealous warrior, an angry leader, a clever commander, and a wooden horse!  It recounts the warrior’s journey and represents all that a true epic can and should be!

The Secret Life of Bees
is a novel written from the perspective of fourteen-year-old Lily Owens.  Her journey begins when she runs away to escape her abusive father and to learn the truth about her mother’s life and death.  While seeking the answers to her mother’s mystery in Tiburon, South Carolina, she chances upon a group of beekeeping sisters who provide her sanctuary and a wisdom that defies her preconceptions about race, family, and femininity.  I love it for its beautiful word choice, authentic characters, sense of humor, and simple wisdom.

In The Chosen, two teenage boys, from two different worlds, struggle to maintain their friendship despite prejudice, ignorance, and tradition.  It reminds me of A Separate Peace, though the backdrop is less about war, and more about faith.  Reuven Malter, a modern orthodox Jew, and his friend Daniel Saunders, a Hasidic Jew, begin as rivals on the baseball field, but soon learn that a lasting friendship is a journey toward understanding.  Their story is so sweet….so challenging….so informative....so important.  

This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki & Mariko Tamaki is a graphic novel about two adolescent girls who enjoy a two-week friendship every summer at a lakeside beach where their families have neighboring cottages.  However, this summer is different.  As both girls enter their teens, they accept the victories and defeats of the journey quite differently, and one wonders how their friendship will change or if it will even remain intact in the end.  This text deals with situations that we have all faced, especially how it feels when a close friendship is suddenly not so close.

In Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash, fifteen-year-old Maggie's journey begins at Camp Bellflower and leads her to a surprising discovery about herself.  It is a book laden with trials and obstacles, and her story is real and relatable. 

In the graphic novel, Boxers, Little Bao’s community is threatened by a group of mysterious foreigners who accuse Bao’s village of worshipping false idols.  After studying under the Kung Fu master, Red Lantern Chu, Little Bao embarks on a journey to defend his country from the invaders who threaten to destroy his ancient culture.  In Boxers, Yang uses magical realism and a clear narrative voice to distill the Boxer Rebellion into an accessible, yet deeply personal narrative that questions the motivations between belligerents and the effects of war on identity.

The graphic novel Saints tells the story of Four-girl whose life runs parallel to Little Bao’s in the companion text Boxers.  Even at a very young age, Four-girl struggles to find a place in her family.  Because of the death of her three older siblings, her grandfather refuses to name her, and the family opts to call her by her birth order “four.”  After meeting an acupuncturist who introduces Four-girl to Christianity, she sets off on a journey to find a name and a place in the world.  In Saints, Yang uses magical realism and a carefully crafted juxtaposition to distill the Boxer Rebellion into an accessible, yet deeply personal narrative that questions the motivations between belligerents and the effects of war on identity.