For our Contemporary Literature course we read: The Kite Runner, Lovely Bones, The Things They Carried, Pay it Forward and Monster. What changes would you suggest?
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I am going to approach this question by thinking about the kind of contemporary novels that I would actually like to teach. One of them would definitely be The Road by Cormac McCarthy, which is a dystopian novel set in a bleak future after some kind of environmental disaster where humans are left to survive by feeding on each other. Second up would be The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, which is another dystopian classic based around a future where declining fertility rates combined with the rise of a theocracy in the United States have resulted in a system where any woman who can conceive is made into a handmaid, and given to a high ranking member of the Party to bear them a child.
For me, I would keep Monster, The Things They Carried, and The Kite Runner as all of these are superb at getting students to look at like through a different lens. I would change The Lovely Bones and Pay It Forward. Look at the list of books handed out on World Book Day; my suggestions would be The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri and the Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexi. Lahiri is a fabulous writer, simply luminous in the way she writes as well as her look at the world. The book by Sherman Alexi lets every student confront what it means to be themselves. There are so many good books that I would tell you to give the students many different lenses to observe the world and learn something about themselves at the same time which is why I would keep the three I suggested. Good luck and I love the question as it shows that as a teacher, you want to keep looking at your curriculum to make it better, more relevant to students, and be the best teacher you can be.
I agree with post #3, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian is a great contemporary read and very accessible.
But...I disagree with post #2's suggestion of A Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. If this is reading list is for high school, the material (and language) in that novel is much too adult for high school students. It makes me inwardly cringe to think of the possible parent phone calls...
The reading levels between these books are far and wide, and aside from "contemporary" I'm not sure you could link all of these books together through a common theme. If a thematic commonality is unnecessary, then I'm always looking for opportunities to teach books that are currently relevant in pop culture.
Ignoring my previous comment about the reading levels of the books, I might consider adding The Hunger Games, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, or The Help. With the recent hype of these books and their recent movies, students would have even more encouragement to get excited about them.
Perhaps the 2010 novel Lord of Misruleby Jaimy Gordon might be a good addition. There is nothing interesting or new about the writing or the style, yet it does provide two cultural perspectives of life in West Virginia as it is set at a horse racing track called Indian Mound Downs and is peopled by Native American characters like the disgruntled Medicine Ed.
I would definitely suggest Bastard Out of Carolina, Ellen Foster, and The Color of Water. Besides being my all-time favorite novel, Bastard Out of Carolina (by Dorothy Allison) touches on tough themes of abuse and coming of age in a less-than-ideal childhood. Ellen Foster (Kaye Gibbons) is also a story of childhood abuse, this time from a girl who believes her last name is "Foster" because she has grown up in a foster home. Both Bone in Bastard.... and Ellen Foster in the novel by the same name are characters who survive traumatic events and break stereotypes while overcoming difficult barriers.
Finally, The Color of Water (James McBride) is a non-fiction book -- a tale of the author's journey to discover his true racial and ethnic heritage as a mixed-race man. The chapters alternate between his mother's voice and his own, making for an interesting and fast-paced read.
I would have to agree with reading The Help. When I read it, it spoke to me in a way similar to To Kill a Mockingbird. Of course, it is impossible to compare the two on the same scale: Mockingbird is a classic. The Help may never be a classic, but what I like about it in terms of the classroom is that it has been made recently enough to draw students who cringe when asked to read novels that they consider "old" because they believe the age of the novel matters—not having discovered (I think) that some literature is timeless. The message is strong enough to be really valuable in teaching students about the Civil Rights Movement and the concept of racial equality.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close may also appeal to our students. I know, however, that in our district, we would have to have something "in the wings" for students who were impacted in a strongly personal way on 9-11. We are always asked to keep themes and topics of literature in mind if, for instance, there is a suicide in a book: if someone in class has had an experience with this, we allow them (and/or their parents) to decide if reading the novel is going to be too uncomfortable.
Personally, I would not want to read Lovely Bones with my kids. That's just my own preference.
If The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood is seen as being too adult, maybe her novel Oryx & Crake could be a better fit. There is still some sexual content, but the tone of the novel is not as intimate so the material may be less disturbing.
Coetzee has a number of truly impressive short novels that could really work in a classroom setting. The Like and Times of Michael K and Waiting for the Barbarians are both challenging and deep works that would make for great discussion material while also pushing students to come to their own conclusions as to the meaning of the work.
White Noise by Don Delillo is a classic that should be taught more and which tackles some important issues that our world faces today with candor, humor, and honesty.
I think this course is also good for new generation . As we get benefit from this .
Jennifer Donnelly's book A Northern Light is an excellent easy to read novel for teenagers. The approach that Donnelly takes in the story is unusual. More interesting it the fact that there are two stories going on at the same time. One is based on an actual murder and the other one deals with the main character and her desire and love for learning and an education. It has so many strong points. Young adults and teenagers love this book and it certainly has educational value.
Donnelly is also accessible. Students can correspond with her on facebook. What a great treat to actually be able to talk with the writer. Add this one to your list of great reads!
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