Reviewing the Books I Read in High School English (Pt. 1)
The selection of books that you are assigned to read in high school English class can be tiresome, enjoyable…even life changing. Regardless of how they impact on you as a reader you don’t get a say in whether or not you read it. Now that many years have passed and I’m the one handing out the reading list I’m thinking back to those dog-eared novels that were forced upon me. How much did they stay in my mind, and have I revisited any? Let us begin.
The White Mountains
by John Christopher
I’m not going to claim to ever being a good student. Quite the opposite actually. In between drawing cartoons about the teachers and scratching rude words on to the desks (and looking back as a teacher, how did all this go unnoticed?) as a 13 year old I was handed this slice of sci-fi. I was actually pretty keen to read it, having watched the TV adaptation on and off as a child. Unfortunately I didn’t read this one past the opening chapters. Rather than awesome, giant three-legged robots stomping through an old fashioned English society it was character development and thematic stuff. Didn’t quite click and faked my way through the associated assessments (something I was remarkably good at doing).
It’s possible that this was handed to me at the wrong time. Nowadays this flavour of sci-fi would be right up my alley. As a young’n more interested in my Tekken 2 ability the long set-up for farming and childhood ritual did little to grab my attention.
I remember spending a double session drawing a wicked picture of a tripod though.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
By the time this one landed in front of me I’d not only grown up a bit, but evolved into a movie nerd. Making up the time lost watching Police Academy movies as a child I’d thrown myself into the imdb.com Top 250 Movies list, so I’d seen the film adaptation before receiving the book. If you’ve seen the movie you know how fantastic it is, with the character performances elevating to the top of the drama genre.
The book is better. An extra gravitas comes from the story being told from the perspective of The Chief, the mute Native American inmate. The pandemonium caused by the arrival of the rebellious Randle McMurphy takes on a different meaning through the eyes of the naive and gentle figure. Unlike the film adaption the novel delves further in to the Chief’s psychosis, describing hallucinations he suffers at night that involve the floor of the hospital sinking into an industrial nightmare world. This book is worth the reputation it carries, and is worth revisiting.
Invitation to the Game
This one was assigned to me part way through high school, putting me at age 15. I went in to this novel without any context, and it’s true colours as a dystopian sci-fi story wouldn’t show until after the first few chapters, but it did a good job of grabbing my attention through its relatable characters and setting. After finishing school the group of youths who the story revolves around find that they are destined to join the ever-growing group of unemployed citizens, assigned food rations and shared quarters in ghetto for the large population of non-workers. Even those who enter their family businesses eventually find themselves reunited with their school friends. The easy introduction the bleak future made this an easy book to get in to.
Eventually they all receive invitations to ‘The Game’, a virtual simulation of life on a practical Eden. With nothing else to use their energies on the group dedicate themselves to surviving in this artificial world better one each weekly visit, practising camping and hunting and improving their fitness. The reason why the government is putting them through The Game only becomes apparent in later parts of the story, and the reveal is a fascinating one. Hughes successfully merges a sci-fi exploration story with a dystopian one, with a VR game being the connecting line. Although I never went back to reread it, I enjoyed Invitation to the Game quite a bit.