Contemporary British Fiction Choices For High School Seniors
Note: This is part three of my recommendations for independent reading in the British Literature classroom. If you are interested in my other lists you can find them here, here, and here.
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 Sprawling Story Spanning Centuries
Summary: 1700s, Ghana: Two half sisters are born into different villages: Effia marries an Englishman and lives in Cape Coast Castle, historically where the brutal Middle Passage sent so many into slavery.
Unknown to Effia, Esi is imprisoned in the dungeon below. The book spans nearly 300 years to the present day, with one tale following Effia’s descendants who stay in Africa, and another Esi’s, in America.
Watch Yaa Gyasi discuss Homegoing in the video below:
A Readable Novel That Reminds Us of a Brutal Truth
This is a beautifully written, powerful story. My students have truly enjoyed it. Gyasi weaves this tale of two family lines, succinctly telling each story as we move through the generations. Because there are so many characters, it does require focus from the reader and I am sure to warn my students of this.
Although many of my students originally have chosen to read Homegoing because it is one of the shortest options, they have walked away from the unit satisfied with their choice. This is an excellent option for reluctant or struggling readers because of its length and readability. It is accessible and appropriate for all high school grade levels.
Gyasi also wrote Transcendent Kingdom, used as independent reading by teachers I trust, however, I have not personally read it and cannot speak to its effectiveness in the classroom.
Purchase your copy of Homegoing here.
Purchase your copy of Transcendent Kingdom here.
See Gyasi read from Homegoing in this video from the National Book Foundation:
Choice #2: An American Socialite Marries a British Duke
Summary: It is historical fiction at its finest, giving the reader an inside look at a time where wealthy American young women are looking for a British title, and English men need American money to keep their castles afloat.
Cora marries Ivo, but finds that a young American girl trying to fit into British society is beyond difficult, and marrying for a title is certainly more challenging than marrying for love.
A Great Choice for Fans of Downton Abbey or Jane Austen
Juniors and seniors who enjoy this kind of story will like this book. It is not a hugely popular choice among students, but I think it is worth offering to the kids who will enjoy it.
See my full review of The American Heiress here.
Read this NY Times review of The American Heiress here.
Purchase your copy of The American Heiress here.
Choice #3: Based On a True Crime
Summary: Atwood’s Alias Grace is based on the true story of Grace Marks, convicted in 1843 of murdering her boss and his housekeeper. Grace maintained throughout her life that she could not remember what happened that day.
Atwood uses the primary sources available for this case while creating the second narrator, a psychologist, who begins to meet with Grace in prison. Is she a liar or can she really not remember, and if her memory is really gone, why?
Check out this interesting article from Newsweek here.
A Fascinating Story of Truth and Lies
Alias Grace is one of my favorite books to teach. I used this book for years in my AP Literature classes. There is so much here – dual narration, primary sources, dramatic irony, reliable and unreliable narrators, etc.
Many of my senior students choose Alias Grace as an independent reading option because they have watched (sometimes read) Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and while this story is nothing like that terrifying dystopian society, it is a fascinating read. I think this is Atwood at her very best.
Check out my detailed post of how I use Alias Grace in the classroom here.
Also, there is a miniseries that is absolutely worth watching. See the trailer below.
Choices 4 & 5: Celebrating Ishiguro
Summary: In postwar England, three children attend an exclusive boarding school, shielded from the outside world. Many years later, the children, now adults, reunite and begin to understand the strange significance of their shared experience.
Dystopian Science Fiction
My students really like Never Let Me Go. It is a very readable story, and the students stay interested throughout the book. There are always some groans when I tell them to put their books away when I give them a few minutes to read in class. In my opinion, this book is a little mature for freshman students, but that is a matter for debate amongst my fellow English teachers. Definitely put it on your list for seniors.
I have yet to watch it, but there is a movie version as well. Watch the trailer below:
Summary: The Remains of the Day follows Stevens, a career butler at Darlington Hall, as he reminisces on his long career and tries to justify his service to a “great family”.
A Tale of Regret
The Remains of the Day is another hit with my seniors. The students often comment on getting to know a person that mostly goes unnoticed, or that is normally a one-dimensional character in many stories. It is a quiet story, so certainly not for my action-adventure students, but a must for the students who will appreciate it.
Ishiguro’s newest novel, Klara and the Sun, is a favorite amongst English teachers as well. It is on my to be read list, but at the time of this writing I cannot personally speak to its greatness (although my expectations are high!). Check out this interview with Kazuo Ishiguro as he discusses the origin of Klara and the Sun here.
Purchase your copies of Never Let Me Go, Remains of the Day, and Klara and the Sun here.
Check out the lesson planning template that I use for creating and organizing my lessons here!