My Independent Reading List for High School – Part One

Contemporary British Fiction Book Choices for High School Seniors

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I have taught many courses in various high school curricula, but my true love is British literature. I know we aren’t supposed to have favorites as teachers, but here it is. My ugly truth. I love British lit just a little bit better than the rest.

I have spent years “perfecting” my curriculum, trying to find high interest, engaging, age appropriate independent reading books for my students. 

In my career, British literature has been taught to seniors, and I feel like it is SO important for 12th graders to enjoy what they read this year. It is my last ditch effort to encourage a love of reading before they go off into the world, and I take this very seriously.

However, the internet has not been kind to me through my years of searching. I have tried Googling it a million different ways, but somehow I always end up with a list of classics (which I also love, but not what I am looking for!) or a list of books that my students would not enjoy or appreciate. 

A Helpful Resource for Teachers

My hope is that this list series will be a resource to other teachers as I share the books that I assign for independent reading to my seniors. I have personally read each and every one of these and find them to be age appropriate and engaging for high school seniors. 

Please note that these are the options I give for independent reading projects, so most of the books are contemporary. I teach classics as well, but that is for a different blog post!

This post contains affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link.

Choice #1: A Dark and Exhilarating Thriller

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Ruth Ware: In a Dark, Dark Wood 

Summary: Claire and Nora were childhood friends, but have not seen each other in ten years. Which is why Nora is so shocked when she receives an invitation to Claire’s bachelorette party at a rural home in the woods. What happens in that glass house is nothing like the party that Nora expects. 

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My Seniors Called This Mystery "Unputdownable"

My students LOVE this book. It is a page turner and keeps them guessing until the very end. Ruth Ware writes a good book, and really any of her thrillers would work for an independent choice. 

If you have students who like a sinister plot, this is one to recommend. Be warned: the premise of this book is a bachelorette party gone wrong. There are adult themes and mature language. 

Purchase here!

Watch the trailer from Simon and Schuster below. 

Choice #2: A Novel That Sparks Personal Reflection

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Matt Haig: The Midnight Library

Summary: Nora’s life has not gone the way she planned. She feels like a failure in all aspects of life, and turns to suicide. But what happens then is not anything like she expected. Nora ends up in the most unlikely of places….a library. Within that library she is able to test out the other lives she could have lived, and what she learns changes everything. 

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The Perfect Book at the Perfect Time For a High School Senior

This is a compelling story. My students who have read this book really enjoyed it. It prompts deep introspection and discussion among the kids: what is worth living for? Am I living a life in alignment with my priorities? 

The seniors are at the right time in their lives to consider these reflections regarding where they are, where they are going, and how they want to live their lives. 

There is a major trigger warning here, though (and a spoiler): the protagonist attempts suicide, which is how she ends up in this mystical library trying out other lives. 

Purchase here

Enjoy watching Matt Haig introduce The Midnight Library from Canongate publisher below.

Choice #3: A Powerful Coming of Age Story

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Abi Dare: The Girl With The Louding Voice

Summary: Fourteen year old and motherless, Adunni lives in a rural Nigerian village and does not have access to an education, which is all she wants in the world. 

She longs to have a “louding voice” and stand up for herself and live the life she wants. Her father has other plans for her, and commits Adunni to a life as the third wife of a much older man. 

This is the story of a young girl who stuck to her dreams and does what she needs to do to reach her goals, no matter the cost. 

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An inspiring Story

I Love This Book. 

And the students do, too. This is a beautiful, moving coming of age story that my seniors connected with. The students who read it said they did not expect to love it as much as they did.

I would love to do a more in-depth review of this book, as I feel it deserves one, but for now just know that this book is worth a read. 

Note: this book has some graphic sexual scenes.

The setting of this novel is in Nigeria, but the author, Abi Dare, currently lives in the U.K., so I have claimed it as Brit Lit.

Purchase here

Watch the interview below with Abi Dare from Penguin Random House as she discusses her debut novel.

Choice #4: A Fun Detective Story

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Agatha Christie: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

Summary: In the small village of King’s Abbot, the residents are shocked when two suspicious deaths occur within hours of one another. Luckily, Hercule Poirot has moved to the village, looking for peace and quiet…

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Okay, okay, I know. NOT contemporary, but you know I love me some Agatha Christie, and the students do, too! 

Many of them have told me that And Then There Were None is their favorite book they ever read in school (mostly taught in the 8th grade curriculum around here), so when I offer Roger they jump at the chance. 

Like all of Christie’s work, it is full of unexpected twists and turns, leaving us guessing whodunit until the very end. 

Purchase here.

Check out my post on Agatha Christie’s mysteries (listed in chronological order!) here.

Choice #5: A Gothic Mystery

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Diane Setterfield: The Thirteenth Tale  

Summary: Margaret Lea, a biographer, spends her days routinely working in her father’s antique bookshop, until she receives a mysterious letter from the famous British fiction author, Vida Winter. The aging Ms. Winter wants Margaret, a woman she has never met, to write her life story. 

The only problem is that Vida Winter has a long history of not telling the truth. 

Margaret is intrigued by the offer. She travels to Vida’s private estate to hear the story, and what a story she gets! Vida’s childhood is full of trauma and secrets, and Margaret has to separate fact from fiction. 

At the center of the story is the juxtaposition of the two women – one young, one old; one who is most comfortable with facts and reality, while the other is known for her outlandish tales. 

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Fact vs. Fiction

I now use this book as summer reading in my British Literature Honors class, but in the past I have used this as an independent reading choice. 

This is one of my favorite British novels ever written, and that is saying something. I live for British gothicism, and this contemporary story does not disappoint. The characters are richly described, the setting is dark and intense, and the story is part mystery, part reflection. It is perfection. 

Some of my students have complained that there are too many characters to keep track of, and I don’t disagree. This book would be best suited for readers who are willing to give it the focus it needs for it to be impactful. 

Purchase The Thirteenth Tale here.

Other solid options include Setterfield’s other two novels, Bellman and Black and Once Upon a River. I have offered both and my students enjoyed them.

Please see my in-depth post on this novel, complete with lesson ideas here.

I hope this list has been helpful! Check out my other two posts with more British Literature independent reading options that my students love!

My Independent Reading List for High School – Part Two, Part Three, Part Four

Check out the lesson planning template that I use for creating and organizing my lessons here!

I hope you enjoyed these independent reading choices for the high school english classroom!

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