An Honest Review of Classic Books

An Honest Review of Classic Books

Student Life

July 03, 2020

There's an almost universal experience of being forced to read certain books deemed "classics" in high school English class and then write about them. This article would give a fun, honest review of several of these books, from The Great Gatsby to The Scarlet Letter.

A Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Ah yes A Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger’s instant hit about the struggles of a young boy.

Did you know that this novel was originally intended for adults? The themes of angst and alienation, as well as the many critiques on society, made it relatable for many adolescents. No wonder is still widely taught in schools.

I may be in the minority here but I enjoyed Holden Caulfield, but as a character and a narrator. Sure, his thoughts are a little scattered and he didn’t always make sense, but he still managed to keep me captivated while I was reading. His misadventures in New York were also intriguing to read about, though some parts made me go Umm… what?

Like the part where his professor was watching him sleep. And don’t get me started on the whole "inviting that woman to his motel room mess." All in all though it was a solid novel and definitely one of the more entertaining ones that I was forced to read in school. 8/10

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Telling such an important story through the eyes of such young children is no easy task, but I think Harper Lee pretty much nailed it. The characters really make this story come to life, from Scout and Jem to Tom Robinson and Boo Radley. The themes of racism and classism are wonderfully represented in this novel.

I will say one thing though. For years this novel has been regarded as the book on racism. I would encourage people to expand their horizons when seeking literature on race in the United States.

There are many books by black authors on the subject that are just as good, if not better than, To Kill a Mockingbird. That’s not to say that Harper Lee’s work isn’t amazing. It still remains a classic of American literature to this day. 9/10

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Arguably the GOAT of the school reading list is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece about the glitz and the glamour, the failures and fallacy of life set in the Roaring 20’s. But holy symbolism Batman does Scotty boy loves his metaphors.

I still remember the heated arguments about whether the green light at the end of Daisy's dock represented Gatsby's hopes and aspirations for the future or it might just be a green light. And if the charming and mysterious Jay Gatsby is the living embodiment of the American dream or just another hopeless, rich fool. I, personally, think it’s a little bit of both, but that doesn’t make The Great Gatsby any less enjoyable.

Sure the characters do arragravate me at times, but that’s expected. I’ll allow it since I think the over story is worth it. 10/10

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The title of this book still confuses me a little. I’m sure it made sense in John Steinbeck’s head, but when I first started reading it I was like What do grapes have to do with anything? But I digress. While this book does tell a woefully honest tale of life during the Great Depression, I have to admit that I found The Grapes of Wrath exceedingly boring.

The Joads are an… interesting family, to say the least, but not really remarkable in any substantial way. The grammar and language used by the characters was so wrong that it gave me a headache trying to read it. I know that’s how people actually talked back then, and even now in some places, but that didn’t make it any easier. The entire time I was reading it I was just waiting for it to be over. 5/10 (This is me being generous.)

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Soooo apparently Nathaniel Hawthorne, in all his infinite wisdom, decided it was appropriate to subtitle his 1850 novel “A Romance.” Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think this particular story classifies as a romance. The Scarlet Letter focuses more on the perils of public ridicule than on any “romantic” aspects. The main character, Hester Prynne, is branded an adulterer and forced to wear the letter “A” on her clothes so that all who see her can know her sin and further shame her for it. She definitely has a rough time of it throughout the story, but she handles her tribulations with a certain level of courage and spirit that is admirable.

She is decidedly different from modern heroines, who would rage against their community’s judgement, but I think that adds to her character. But the men in the story irk me. All of them. 6/10

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Based on the title alone I thought this would be a completely different story before I read it. Just further proof that you should never judge a book by it’s cover I guess. In any case, Kurt Vonnegut’s science fiction- infused anti-war novel quickly became one of my favorites.

Having aliens appear in a story that’s overall about the horrors of war is a bold choice, and I applaud the author for making it. The main character, Billy Pilgrim, is the definition of an unreliable narrator, but that’s what gives this book it’s uniqueness. Slaughterhouse-Five discusses some pretty dark themes so it’s no wonder that it’s been banned so many times.

Seeing those atrocities from the whimsical mind of Billy Pilgrim is jarring but I think that’s what Vonnegut intended. It definitely makes people pay attention to an important subject. 10/10

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

“It was a pleasure to burn.” This line still gives me chills years later. What a way to start a book! The world depicted in Ray Bradbury’s novel is a haunting one.

As an avid book lover, I was immediately put off by a society that so gleefully and shamelessly destroys books. I couldn’t escape the ominous feeling that I had while reading Fahrenheit 451. There are many books about dystopias, but none quite like this one.

The character development of the protagonist, Guy Montag, is wonderfully done. To go from a fireman who gleans pleasure from the destruction of knowledge to someone committed to the preservation of literacy is an astonishing arc. There were a few points in the book that moved a little too slow for me, but the overall message was too important to miss. 7/10

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

This novel might as well have been called “Darcy and Elizabeth.” Jane Austen’s classic gives an honest depiction of manners, education, marriage, and money during the Regency era in Great Britain. Though the plot is driven by the motivation of marrying well to secure a good life, the novel seems to revolve around the importance of marrying for love. We see the protagonist, Elizabeth Bennet, come to terms with how her own prejudice has left her blind to the true character of certain people, especially in the case of Mr.

Darcy, who’s pride endures him to no one. Besides these two, the rest of the characters range from charming to mischievous to haughty to dull. They all certainly have a role to play in telling the story of Pride and Prejudice. I still can’t believe Charlotte married a man that had proposed to her best friend the day before, but so was life back then. 9/10

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespear

I just want to start off by saying that personally I think everyone could have handled the situation better, but I guess I should focus on the two main characters. Everyone knows about William Shakespeare's tale of two young lovers in old Verona. Romeo and Juliet sparked a huge debate about what the play is really about: a tragic tale of young love gone wrong or an oversimplified glorification of suicide.

Like I said, they certainly could have handled the situation better, but I don’t think Shakespeare intended to glorify suicide. I think it’s more about how holding pointless grudges can ruin lives, but that’s just my opinion. 8/10

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

This book, or rather diary, is so heartbreaking to read. The optimism of a young girl in such a dangerous and hopeless situation is extraordinary. I don’t know many people who could go through what Anne Frank did and remain such a positive person.

How people can read The Diary of a Young Girl and still express doubt about the horrors inflicted on people during this time is something I’ll never understand. The language and thoughts she expresses make her seem wise beyond her years. The way she details living in that attic for two years is so captivatingly tragic. 9/10

Geneva Brumfield
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Writer since Jun, 2020 · 7 published articles

Geneva is a graduate of NYU’s school of journalism. An avid reader and writer, she is interested in literature, film, pop culture, and social justice topics.