Opinion

Ode to summer reads What if we just discussed the books we loved?

Those of us who love to read and have a stack of books waiting for us over the lazier summer months can get frustrated with the school’s summer reading requirement. Granted, the requirements try to ensure that even those who don’t love to read do so at least a little during the off months. But some of us at The Vanguard think being assigned reading during our free time makes it a chore and doesn’t inspire a culture of reading for pleasure. We leave it to the teachers to rethink the policy and its details, but in the meantime, we propose for next year an all-school blog for summer readers, including an online forum for discussion about books read for pleasure. Such a forum could encourage students and faculty to share and discuss their favorite books with the community. Here’s what some of our editorial staff enjoyed most this summer: 

Exit West

by Mohsin Hamid

The novel follows the love story of two young adults, Nadia and Saeed, living in an unnamed war-torn country. When their circumstances become too dangerous, they only have one choice: to leave their home. In this fictitious twist on the refugee crisis, Nadia and Saeed’s journey takes them through secret doors which lead to various locations across the world. Hamid explores the dismal realities of immigration as the couple struggles to settle in each place they travel. Nadia and Saeed live in constant fear for their economic security, health, and most importantly, lives. I recommend this book to anyone looking to gain a new perspective on immigration from a contemporary and global point of view. 

—Laila Shadid ’19

Those of us who love to read and have a stack of books waiting for us over the lazier summer months can get frustrated with the school’s summer reading requirement. Granted, the requirements try to ensure that even those who don’t love to read do so at least a little during the off months. But some of us at The Vanguard think being assigned reading during our free time makes it a chore and doesn’t inspire a culture of reading for pleasure. We leave it to the teachers to rethink the policy and its details, but in the meantime, we propose for next year an all-school blog for summer readers, including an online forum for discussion about books read for pleasure. Such a forum could encourage students and faculty to share and discuss their favorite books with the community. Here’s what some of our editorial staff enjoyed most this summer: 

American Pastoral

by Philip Roth

After Philip Roth died this summer, I picked up one of his most celebrated novels, American Pastoral. The novel chronicles the life of Seymour “Swede” Levov, a beloved athlete as a child and a successful manufacturer of lady’s gloves as a man. He is living the American dream in Old Rimrock, New Jersey, until his daughter commits an act of political terrorism that sends Seymour and his family into chaos. American Pastoral features a range of lively characters who struggle with issues of politics, family, and success. The book’s warnings against both being extreme and being moderate were compelling, and the tensions Seymour and his daughter encounter are fraught and beautifully rendered in exquisite prose.

—Sam Klein Roche ’19

Red Queen

by Victoria Aveyard

This novel is the first of four in a series that follows teenager Mare Barrow on a journey from being a poor commoner to becoming a member of a royal family. The book takes place in a dystopian society where the “Silvers,” members of an upper class with supernatural powers, rule over the “Reds,” a lower class with no powers. Through her many adventures, Mare learns how to love, trust, and fit into a society that has no place for her. When I came across this novel, I was looking for a read similar to The Hunger Games or Divergent, and I can easily say I prefer this to both. The characters’ chemistry and the major plot twists will keep readers hooked. 

—Lauren Yun ’19


The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao 

by Junot Diaz

In this novel, Diaz follows the life of Oscar, a depressed romantic living in New Jersey, as well as the generations before him. The story jumps between generations and locations (the Dominican Republic and the United States) and submerges the reader in each of its worlds. The footnotes are many and long, presenting historical information as well as continuing to develop the characters in the same conversational and blunt tone as the rest of the novel. Though the title bears Oscar’s name, the book focuses equally on his sister, Lola, a teenage rebel. Oscar’s mother, whose childhood in the Dominican Republic was possibly ruined by a family curse, also features prominently. The stories across generations and the curse make this much more than a coming-of-age story; it is a family saga embedded with magical realism.

—Claire Pingitore ’20

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius 

by Dave Eggers

Dave Eggers begins A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius with 40 pages of satirical prefatory content, including a breakdown of how much he was paid for the book and a list of rules about how to enjoy the story. His frank honesty, which helps create humor in the story, carries through a memoir about his experience raising his 8-year-old brother when he’s only 21, both of their parents having died within a month of each other. The story begins in their family home in the suburbs of Chicago, until the two brothers move to Berkeley, California. The author explores the humor in the situation, writing about how, still unprepared for the world, he haphazardly stumbles through daily events like parent-teacher meetings. The humor blends seamlessly with the heartbreaking moments in the story as he both grieves his parents and struggles to see himself as his brother’s guardian. Written in a uniquely honest and raw voice, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is an engaging and often surprising read.

—Maia Pandey ’20


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