Summer Reading

2021-2022 Portsmouth Abbey School

Summer Reading


Dear Students,

For your summer reading assignment, you must choose one of the following titles listed for your form. Fourth Formers will all read the same book. To help make your choice more meaningful, several teachers from the English department have written "teasers" for the titles. We have selected fairly contemporary titles from a diverse range of authors, and we hope that among them you will find something engaging and relevant. After our year of screen overload, we encourage you to engage in the reading process fully--buy a hard copy of the book, put aside distractions, and set aside time to read thoughtfully.  Shortly after you return to school, you will be tested on your understanding of the book.


Have a great summer!


The English Department


3rd form:

A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest Gaines 

Ernest Gaines’ 1993 novel explores racial injustice in the Louisiana in the late 1940s. Loosely based on a true story, the novel centers on two young Black men—one a young teacher, the other, a man wrongfully convicted of murder and sentenced to die. Set against the backdrop of emergent Black sports heroes (Jackie Robinson, Joe Louis) on the national stage, Gaines’ novel powerfully narrates the struggle of Black Americans for dignity in the Jim Crow South. (Mr. St. Thomas) 


The Chosen by Chaim Potok 

An unfortunate line drive to the head provides the occasion for the beginning of the friendship between Danny Saunders and Reuven Malter, two Jewish boys growing up in Brooklyn in the 1940s. Both boys are shaped by their fathers—one, a progressive Jewish scholar and Zionist; the other, a traditional (Hasidic) Rabbi and anti-Zionist. Danny’s father raises him rigidly, and the brilliant boys, as they come of age, have to negotiate the demands of religion and society, tradition and modernity. Highly recommended for those interested in religion and/or politics. (Mr. St. Thomas) 


Brave New World by Aldous Huxley 

Though Huxley’s dystopian novel was written in 1932, it feels unnervingly current. He conceives of a futuristic World State that keeps order not by the threat of violence so much as by manipulation of desire. Human embryos are farmed in laboratories and, before birth, sorted by genetic features into social classes. Society is configured to maximize pleasure for its citizens, and consumer choices abound. But are people fulfilled? “John the Savage,” raised on a Native reservation, provides the only alternative to the World State. What happens when his experience collides with that of the rest? (Mr. St. Thomas) 

4th Form:

The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis 

5th form:

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison 

Fair Warning: this is a brutal, unflinching novel. You will not feel good or happy at the end. But it is a work full of depth and heart, and you will never see the world the same way again. Nobel Prize winning author Toni Morrison’s novel traces the coming of age of Pecola Breedlove, a young African-American girl with heart breaking dreams borne out of pain and abuse. This book asks incredibly tough questions about race, family, and individual identity, and explores what it means to be responsible to one another. Morrison’s first novel, this only hints at the genius that her later novels, Song of Solomon and Beloved, will reveal. But it is an extraordinary entrée into the work of Toni Morrison. (Ms. Smith) 

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck 

The story of the Joad family’s migration from Oklahoma to the promised land of California is moving and beautifully told. Through Steinbeck’s evocative descriptions, the landscape itself becomes a character. The story is the closest thing we have to a 20th-century American epic. For maximum effect, pair with Bruce Springsteen’s album The Ghost of Tom Joad. (Mr. St. Thomas)   

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri 

A short story collection (that opens with a Hawthorne quotation from “Custom House”) which explores the human experience through eyes of Indian-Americans. It is accessible and insightful in its exploration of love, loss, connection, family, and friendship. (Mrs. McDermott-Fazzino) 

6th form:

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead 

In Colson Whitehead's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Nickel Boys,Elwood Curtis and Jack Turner rely on each other to survive the horrors of daily life at Nickel Academy, a juvenile reformatory based on the real-life Dozier School. The story bears witness to the power of courage, perseverance, friendship, and redemption in the face of racial injustice and abuse. Anyone interested in the history of American race-relations should consider this book. (Mr. McQuillan) 


Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce 
This bildungsroman, or coming-of-age story, casts Stephen Dedalus, a somewhat fictionalized version of Joyce himself, as a young Irish writer who aims to cast off the shackles of his influence (culture, family, religion) and become, like his mythical namesake, a great artist. In his effort to escape those formative elements of his life, Stephen begins to realize how difficult it is. His declaration of independence (“non serviam”) echoes that of Milton’s Satan from Paradise Lost, and his story raises fascinating questions about the relationship between the individual and his or her environment. Published in 1916, the novel is one of the most famous examples of literary Modernism, and at points Joyce experiments with the stream-of-consciousness narration that would come to dominate his later works. (Mr. St. Thomas) 


Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf 

One of the great modernist works of the early twentieth century, Mrs. Dalloway traces a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, a London society lady preparing for a dinner party. But like Joyce’s Ulysses, this mundane subject matter becomes the stuff of the heroic in the telling. This is not an easy read, by any means; Woolf pushes the limits of narrative structure as she delves into the inner life of her characters. Into this narrative, she weaves the despair of post-war devastation, the elusive desire to create beauty, and the power of memory in shaping the present. This is a book you will return to for your entire life: might as well start on that journey now. And if you like this, try Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. (Ms. Smith)