Summer is a time to kick back and unwind, a time to let the brain rest and prepare for another 9 months of hard work during the school year. However, I do think students benefit from some form of mental activity over the summer to keep them engaged.

Reading is my favorite thing to do over summer, and it’s a great way for students to keep their brains sharp but still get away from required school work. Whether on an airplane, by the pool, or on a road trip, a book provides great distraction and helps build students’ vocabularies and reading comprehension. And the best part is no screen time, which we all need a break from – just make sure to buy the actual hard copy of the book!

Below is a list of books I recommend for summer reading for high school students (and many for their parents too!). I tried to select novels from a wide-range of genres, so hopefully there’s something for everyone.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

This was one of the most well-written World War II novels I have ever read, full of history and suspense. It’s the story of two sisters and how they navigate through the tumultuous war-time period in France, sometime together and sometime apart. The younger sister is a bad a**, and she pretty much steals the show.

The Good Lord Bird by James McBride

I could not stop reading this book and was so bummed when it was finished. The main character is a boy who pretends to be a girl while on the run as a slave in the deep south. He/she meets up with legendary abolitionist John Brown, and mayhem and adventure ensue. With a cast of colorful characters on every page, you will not want to put this one down.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

Another novel set in the pro-slavery south, but this one digs into the everyday lives of slaves and the incredible lengths they went through to escape via the Underground Railroad. There are heroes all throughout this novel, some whose lives end tragically and some who conquer the odds to make it to freedom.

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

I love a good sports story, and this is certainly one of the best. It tells the true story of the 1936 U.S. Olympic crew team and how they banded together in one of the greatest upsets in Olympics history, all against the backdrop of Hitler’s Nazi regime. It was a different time and a different era of sports, and you can feel the grit and realism.

Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck

This is not his most famous or even his best work, but I loved it nonetheless. Towards the end of his career, Steinbeck and his faithful poodle Charley set out on a road trip across America to discover what our country is all about. Though written in 1960, it still stands the test of time and makes you want to hop in the car and see our great nation.

Nobody’s Fool by Richard Russo

Russo is one of my favorite authors, as he develops down-and-out characters that you can’t help but love and root for. This novel is about Sully and his relationship with many of his townsfolk, who all live in Upstate New York. If you finish this one and like it there is the follow up Everybody’s Fool, which was released 22 years later.

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

Almost everyone has heard of this series since it was adapted into a TV show on HBO. I’m not the biggest fan of fantasy, but this series hooked me. It’s as much political intrigue, history, chivalry, plot twists, and character development as it is fantasy. Each book is nearly 1,000 pages, so it’s a bit of a commitment…but it’s totally worth it.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

I admit that I have not read this book myself. I have watched some of the TV show on Netflix, though, and I have read a lot of the controversy surrounding it. Any time a book comes out that takes teens by storm (and not in a healthy way) it’s a good idea for kids and parents to read them together. It’s a good conversation starter on a hot topic.

Descent by Tim Johnston

This is the classic summer read…not too hard and keeps the pages turning. I thoroughly enjoyed this suspense thriller and was very surprised at the ending. Without giving too much away, a teenage girl goes missing while on a hike with her brother. The family spends years piecing the puzzle together before an explosive conclusion.

Ulysses by James Joyce

OK, so this is really more of a challenge than an actual good read. Many consider Ulysses the best novel ever written. I don’t know if I agree, but it is the most challenging novel I have ever read. It’s about 900 pages long and covers a single day in the life of one person. You may not enjoy the read, but you’ll feel proud and accomplished if you finish it. Plus your English teacher will be really impressed!