OneNote to high school students: Our Book Nerds at Generation Next will help you through the drab English syllabus with original summaries of three books that come up frequently because your teacher is reading SparkNotes and knows if you’re copying it.
Obviously, there are major spoilers ahead.
You may notice popular books in high school English classes, many of which are written by white people—an overwhelming theme in many syllabuses. Our English classes are begging for more women writers, writers of color, and writers born in the 19th century who were not wealthy.
If you’re looking to diversify your English syllabus or give advice to teachers or schools who do so, here are some extraordinary writers who are often excluded from the classroom, in no particular order: Amanda Lovelace, Toni Morrison, Haruki Murakami , Emily St. John Mandel, Gabi Rivera, Malala Yousafzai, Sarah Norwich and Margaret Atwood.
If I’m not getting anywhere on your syllabus, keep an eye out for the second edition of this series.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
In one sentence: Before the stock market crash of 1929, the dramatic wealthy toiled together and pondered the American Dream.
The story begins with the lens of Nick Callaway — the narrator of this book is not named until the end of Chapter 1 — who I personally think has an almost legitimate admiration and love for protagonist Jay Gatsby. Whether or not the fans’ claims are true, Nick briefly dated a woman named Jordan Baker, who he described as masculine and muscular in appearance.
Neighborhood: All of Nick’s connection to the “new money” community of West Egg is through the more “old money” community of East Egg, Long Island, NY, where residents thrive on wealth that has been passed down from generation to generation. That’s where his cousin, Daisy Buchanan, lived with her very wealthy husband, Tom Buchanan. The first time readers see Tom and Daisy together, he hits her.
Meet Daisy: Daisy once fell in love with Gatsby, and Gatsby still has feelings for her. At least part of his wealthy role is to impress Daisy, who objectifies and romanticizes Daisy to the point where she ultimately can’t. Both Gatsby and Tom proposed to Daisy, but after Tom gave her an expensive necklace, Daisy married her for status and wealth.
People of the Year: There are many rumors and myths surrounding Gatsby, some of which he touts as fact, such as he went to Oxford and came from a wealthy family. Others, like he killed a guy during Prohibition and made his own wine (which is true), he didn’t make any rebuttals. In Chapter 6, Nick learns that Jay Gatsby, formerly known as James Gates, becomes wealthy Dan Cody’s assistant, acquiring his thirst for wealth, Dan Cody ) unsuccessfully attempted to pass the estate on to Gatsby after his death.
Narrator: At the end of Chapter 3, it is revealed that the book is Nick’s diary, which he consciously wrote and reread. He considers himself a reliable narrator because “[he is] one of the few honest [he has] always knew. One can attest that Nick isn’t a reliable narrator because he’s a bit world-weary and puts Gatsby on a pedestal.
Spoiler alert: Nick knew early on that Tom was having an affair with a woman named Myrtle Wilson. Myrtle’s husband, George, knew his wife was unfaithful and locked her in an apartment upstairs from his auto repair shop. She ran away and ran into the road, and Daisy – unaware of it – hit her with her car. Tom never realizes that it was Daisy who killed Myrtle because both selfish Daisy and infatuated Gatsby claim that Gatsby was driving the car.
This chain of events may have been mentioned earlier in the novel, when Jordan Baker said it was fine for Daisy to be a bad driver because “it takes two people to have an accident”.
In retaliation, George went to Gatsby’s home and shot him, leaving his body floating in a pool of water for Nick to find.
Nick held a small funeral for Gatsby, attended only by Gatsby’s servants and father.
The book ends with Nick reflecting on how far Gatsby has achieved the American Dream, while staring at the green light across the river.
To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) by Harper Lee
In one sentence: Racism, bigotry and violence in a small town in Alabama in the Great Depression, as one elementary school student put it.
Our main character, Scout Finch, is only 6 years old when the book begins, even though everyone outside her family calls her by her first name: Jean Louise. It ended when she was 8, after her father was a lawyer, in a tragic trial that resulted in the death of an innocent man based on false racist allegations.
theme: While the language is not simple, it is not dense either. The deeper meaning of the text lies in its exploration of racism, classism and misogyny. Scooter is a white girl in Depression-era Alabama who is herself frustrated with misogyny, but at the end of the book he succumbs to classism and becomes a perpetrator of racism.
While the book was once banned in some schools for its language and discussion of sexual assault, some scholars today find it problematic because it simplifies racism through a predominantly white lens.
clue: The opening and closing paragraphs of the novel are about Scott’s older brother Jeremy, whose name is Jem. The Finch brothers’ favorite pastime is gossiping about their neighbors, Nathan and his son “Hush” Radley, who live in a house that looks like a ghost. Booing becomes important later.
supporting role: The siblings were raised by their single father, a lawyer named Atticus, and a housekeeper named Calpurnia, who was black and was born on Finch’s Land, the generational land of the Finch family. superior. Atticus were considered wealthy and well-educated people in their town. Scott respected him, calling him “Atticus” in her mind, and exclaiming “Sir.”
In Chapter 9, Scout and her family visit Aunt Alexandra and rude cousin Francis, who live in Finch’s Landing. Alexandra’s character reappears in Chapter 13 when she lives with Atticus, Jem, and Scooter, claiming that the two children need female companionship as they grow up. However, Scooter suspects it was actually because she had a problem with her husband.
The Finch brothers have a friend of the same age, Dill Harris. He announces himself as Scooter’s fiancé, and in the middle of the book, he escapes to Scooter’s family.
Narrator: The telling of the story happens almost exactly as Scout narrates, although there are a few breaks from that rhythm. At one point, when Scott eavesdropped on a conversation between her father and Uncle Jack, Atticus said he wanted Scott and Jem to be strong enough to endure the full extent of Atticus’s defense of a black man. Town’s disgust and whispered anger.
Scott told readers that she didn’t understand until “later” that her father knew she was listening and wanted her to hear what he said.
douchebag: The Ewells are one of the most despised white families, probably in Maycomb, Alabama, where the book takes place. Led by a single alcoholic father named Bob, the family lives on the fringes of town with farm animals. Most notably, for Scout, Ewell’s children only attend school on their first day to avoid truancy. Burris Ewell spends a day in Scout’s class in Chapter 2.
Spoiler alert: The book comes to a point when Ewell Patriarch Bob accuses one of the family’s neighbors, a black man and father of three, Tom Robertson, of raping Ewell’s eldest son, Mayella.
Chapter 18 examines Mayella’s testimony and Chapter 19 examines Tom’s testimony. During the trial, Atticus cross-examined Mayella and Bob’s recollections of what happened the night of the alleged rape. During the trial, Dill was disturbed that Tom was being treated much worse than the Ewells, as was shown by the prosecutor, Mr. Gilmer. Unmoved, Scooter basically tells Dill that Tom deserves the disturbing racist indifference.
Robertson’s innocence was exposed early in the trial, when Atticus tricked Bob into admitting that Mayella had been hit by the southpaw. Tom has no left hand; it was wounded in a cotton gin when he was a child. Although Tom was found guilty and sentenced to death, Bob Ewell is still taking revenge on Atticus for revealing that he beat his children and assaulted the Finch family’s children and injured Jem’s left side arm.
The two are rescued by the forever mysterious Bradley.
Avalanche by Neil Stephenson (1992)
In one sentence: A picture of life in the U.S. in the worst inflation scenario in the 1990s.
This book is like three different books.First off, it’s like Ernest Crane’s 2011 full F-bomb predecessor ready player one. Then it’s more of a mix of an ultramodern story and an old Sumerian mythology, and then it all ends in doom in a dystopian cyberpunk Los Angeles set in the 1990s.
clue: The main character, Hiro Protagonist, calls himself “The Deliverator” because his job is to deliver pizza to a place called Uncle Enzo. Uncle Enzo runs the mafia, but doesn’t really get his hands dirty until later in the story.
Hiro’s colleague YT, short for “You Really”, is also an important protagonist, but we never know her real name. While Hiro is clearly a young adult man, YT is only 15 years old. Her mother worries about the dangers of her daughter’s job, so much so that she might be concerned during her time as a separated parent who works for the government and is under constant surveillance.
“Fed” became popular when YT notified her mother of the computer virus of the same name, “Snow Crash.” Her mom got into trouble at work and was forced to complete a polygraph in Chapter 38, and she had to say she didn’t believe in Avalanche. YT stopped filling out her mother and instead destroyed her computer.
language: Snow Crash is a computer virus that spreads to the brain via the optic nerve and turns victims into controllable pseudo-zombies, killing them quickly. The blood of an infected person is sold as a drug, also known as an avalanche. Other important words for this reading are “south tree“It’s any kind of magic spell, and”I,” The past refers to divine power.
librarian: Hiro turned to his ex-girlfriend and one of the creators of “MetaVerse”, Juanita Marquez, in the hope that she would shed some light on Snow Crash. Juanita leads Hiro into the mythology about the Sumerian goddess Inanna, and about the Tower of Babel, in which she fools another Sumerian god, Enki, and takes all his “I” where he used “south tree” to create multiple languages. Enki destroyed any common language among human beings to preserve the diversity of languages and avoid too much power in any one person. And thus into the theme that religion is a drug.
Spoiler alert: It is understood that Enki’s “south tree“was dug up by a man named L. Bob Rife, who used it to make Snow Crash. Because if all humanity could be “controlled” by oneI,” one person can control the world. At the end of the book, Hiro blows up Rife’s mega-yacht and kills him.
Juanita’s ex-husband Da5id thought he knew enough about Avalanche not to let it affect him, but he suffered a stroke and fell into a coma after being exposed to the virus. Da5id and Hiro’s friendship predates their respective romantic relationships with Juanita and lasts longer. At the end of the book, Hiro and Juanita decide to reunite while Da5id is in a coma. Not cool.