Summer Reading

2022-2023 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:

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Ten strangers arrive on an island invited by an unknown host. Each of them has a secret to hide and a crime for which they must pay. The strangers include a reckless pleasure seeker, a troubled doctor, a formidable judge, an uncouth detective, a dishonest soldier, a God-fearing spinster, a highly decorated general and an anxious secretary. One by one they are picked off. Who will survive? And who is the killer? Copies of an ominous nursery rhyme hang in each room, the murders mimicking the awful fates of its “Ten Little Soldier Boys.” This is the story that made Agatha Christie the best-selling novelist of all time. The plot twists, complex characters, and surprising ending make it an enjoyable read. (Mr. Bragan)

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)

The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho

Part classic adventure story, part fable, part mystical exploration, The Alchemist tracks young shepherd boy Santiago's epic quest across continents to find treasure. Through many challenges and with the help of many memorable mentors, Santiago discovers that his true treasure is not at all what he expected. Brazilian author Paulo Coelho has created a contemporary classic in this brief but potent novel of hope and transformation. (Ms. Smith)


4th Form:

The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis 

5th form:

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

Nathan, the family patriarch, might be the reason the Price family must relocate from Georgia to the Belgian Congo in 1959 to undertake (perhaps, misguided) missionary work. But it is the women of this novel who have the say, share their opinions, tell the story.  Orleanna, the matriarch, sets the scene; then her four daughters’ takeover narrative responsibility. Each chapter, sometimes recounting the same experience or moment, is told from a different point of view and thus captures a wide spectrum of opinions and perspectives. The novel explores relationships, faith, foolishness, arrogance, justice, colonialism, guilt, individuality, Pantheism, culture, and love. The tale is anchored in the family dynamic—even though it is set years ago in a place miles away, you might find yourself nodding along with those emotionally complex moments that often happen in family life. The novel is readable, accessible, and enjoyable. (McDermott-Fazzino)


The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

In search of a new life, the Patel family takes their dream of running a successful zoo across the Pacific with them to Canada. Disaster strikes when a deadly storm sinks their cargo ship, killing nearly everyone on board. The lone survivor, Pi Patel, finds refuge in a safety boat drifting in the middle of the ocean. But he is not alone. A terrifying Bengal Tiger rests on the other side of that lifeboat along with a hyena, an orangutan and an injured zebra. What happens next is an incredible test of courage, fate, and the will to survive as Pi must learn how to navigate the treacherous sea and coexist with a lethal tiger. Yann Martel’s Life of Pi is a page turner you will have a hard time putting down this summer. (Mr. Cahill)


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) 

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek won the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for non-fiction, and it has become a classic of nature writing, along with Thoreau’s Walden and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Dillard sets out to describe the wild valley near her home in Virginia, its flora and fauna. She is an extraordinary observer of animals, a restless and exciting thinker, and a patron saint for anyone who values solitude and time to think. As she says, “I am a fugitive and a vagabond, a sojourner seeking signs.” Above all, however, Dillard is a writer of brilliant, thrilling sentences. For instance, here’s how the book starts: “I used to have a cat, an old fighting tom, who would jump through the open window by my bed in the middle of the night and land on my chest… And some mornings I'd wake in daylight to find my body covered with paw prints in blood; I looked as though I'd been painted with roses.” (Dr. Bonin)

Missionaries by Phil Klay

This recent novel (2020) centers on the long-running, drug-trade-fueled civil war in Colombia. Though the main characters occupy different sides of the conflict, there is no clear line between the “good guys” and “bad guys.” The drive to impose one’s will through violence is universal, and Klay suggests that war is a not an external reality but rather a perpetual state of the soul. Though the novel is often graphic in its depiction of violence, there is hope to be found, in the characters’ ability to accompany each other in their suffering. Klay, a Marine Veteran and Catholic, won the National Book Award for his first book (Redeployment) and Missionaries, his second, does not disappoint—its visceral and moving portrayal of the human condition in the midst of modern warfare stayed with me long after I finished the novel. (Mr. St. Thomas)