Freshman Book Review
BY PRIYANKA CHIDAMBARAM '23
As students enter high school after a relatively easy middle school experience, the newfound stress and heavy workload often seems daunting. Freshman year marks the first year where grades begin to count and when students begin to plan their futures. Because ninth grade is considered the foundation for the high school experience, the English department centers its curriculum on identity and what it means to be human through To Kill a Mockingbird, The Old Man and the Sea, and Of Mice and Men. While the ninth-grade curriculum succeeds in bringing back classics, offensive themes throughout these books tarnish its messages about identity.
Although Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird introduces important themes, including racism, to analyze and discuss, this book takes a very narrow perspective. Primarily, To Kill a Mockingbird follows the white savior trope. The novel focuses on Atticus Finch, a white man who tries to save Tom Robinson, a Black man who has been accused of raping a white woman. The white savior complex harms People of Color (POC) as it perpetuates the false idea that white people are the only ones who can lift POC out of difficulty. Further, this novel was written by a white author. Though Lee’s novel explores racism and thus encourages important class discussions about race, a book written by a Black author would give students better insight into true Black experiences with racism. This book has a lot of potential for deep discussion, but white supremacy and the lack of an authentic Black perspective hinders its theme.
The next book we will look at is The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. The monotony of this book makes it hard to stay interested. Nevertheless, The Old Man and the Sea explores a fisherman’s journey to catch a marlin, and it conveys valuable life lessons, such as the patience needed to achieve one’s goals. It reveals important truths about perseverance and failure, particularly persisting even after giving everything your all and still failing. With this book in the course of study, students have a chance to learn these lessons in the safety of the classroom without real consequences. Overall, this book does a good job exploring universal themes and lessons despite its one-toned nature.
Finally, Of Mice and Men describes the American dream and the struggle that people often face to achieve it. The novel focuses on George, Lennie, and their jobs during the Great Depression. Of Mice and Men also encourages an important discussion surrounding disabilities. One of the main characters, Lennie, has a mental and physical disability, and others treat him like an incompetent child. AB’s English curriculum does not include many books that address disabilities, so this novel is a great start to a necessary conversation. However, Lenny’s disabilities are not discussed in depth during class--having that discussion could enhance students’ understanding of disabilities. Lastly, this book is easy to interpret without a teacher as the symbols and motifs are extremely clear. This could be viewed as a positive or a negative. Some students might enjoy the ease while others might want to be challenged more.
To Kill a Mockingbird, The Old Man in the Sea, and Of Mice and Men all have valid literary merits, which is why they are taught. However, it is important to note that these books have commonly been used for the past twenty years. Times have changed. Thus, it is necessary to teach books that more accurately address today’s issues and represent a greater scope of people and their experiences. Entering ninth grade, students gain the freedom to explore their identity and humanity. Although the ninth grade curriculum does not currently cover modern issues and diversity, I encourage everyone to seek out these types of books in their spare time.