8. The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
Set in late-20th Century Germany, this must read novel boldly confronts long-standing German national guilt over the Nazi war crimes of the Holocaust through the strange, intergenerational relationship between 15 year-old Michael Berg and 36 year-old Hannah Schmitt, an illiterate tram operator and former Auschwitz prison guard. As Michael teaches Hannah to read books, Hannah teaches Michael to read the human character, and he comes to learn about the nuances between good and evil and of living with the consequences of one’s choices. The Reader is a story about personal as well as national guilt, about the consequences of keeping secrets, and about the power of redemption.
9. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Bronte’s classic novel tells the tale of a young girl’s struggle to make something of herself in the world, from the tyranny she endures as a poor orphan under her Aunt’s roof and the deplorable conditions she lives in at Lowood school to the dark secrets she encounters in her role as Governess at Thornfield Hall, the home of the enigmatic and alluring Mr. Rochester. Strong-willed and resilient, Jane longs for the independence that Victorian England denied women, and her story stands as a timeless example of a woman’s determination to choose her own path in life in the face of hardship and ridicule.
10. The End of the Affair by Graham Green
This is another one of those books filled with nuggets of truth that you might cut your teeth on, but that we all need to learn to swallow. The End of the Affair tells the story of the brief but life-altering adulterous relationship between Maurice Bendrix and Sarah Miles. Set in part against the turmoil of World War II, the personal battles of love, hate, guilt, and the search for truth and redemption are all the more poignant. The story of Maurice and Sarah reminds us that the things we do for love can trigger an inexorable pull of fate that carries our lives on a passionate and sometimes perilous journey and that while love doesn’t always last forever, the lessons we learn from it do.
11. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This one’s gotten a lot of attention with the recent announcement that Lee will be releasing a prequel this summer, so even if you’ve read it before, now might be a good time to revisit it. Told through the point of view of the 6 year-old Scout Finch, the story recounts a crisis that rocks her Alabama hometown when the African American Thom Robinson is accused of raping a young white woman. Scout’s father, Atticus Finch, is the lawyer appointed to represent Robinson. Alternately humorous and brutally honest, the novel looks critically at social issues of class, race, and sex politics and the sometimes ironic injustice of the American legal system.
12. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
OK, who am I kidding? Read all of them, but you have to begin at the beginning, right? The Wizarding world of Harry Potter has captivated children and adults alike. The story of the Boy Who Lived, a downtrodden, emotionally neglected orphan who discovers he’s a wizard, ticks all the big boxes on must-read lists. It deals with the enduring love of friendship, the pain of loss, the triumph of good over evil, and the reality that sometimes the fiercest battles we fight are within ourselves.
13. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
A beloved children’s favorite about little Mary Lennox, who goes to live in the English manor house of her reclusive uncle after her parents die of Cholera, The Secret Garden is a timeless classic about the beauty of nature, the healing power of love, and a belief in magic. As the Yorkshire sunshine softens Mary’s hard little heart and she befriends the animal charmer Dicken, her invalid cousin Colin, and a host of gentle creatures, you’ll laugh with her and cry with her as she learns how to love, how to trust, and how to reach outside herself to nurture the world around her.
14. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
When Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy slip into the magical land of Narnia, befriending talking animals and battling the White Witch, they discover the bonds of family and the value of bravery. This is more than a story about an entire world tucked away in an old piece of furniture. It’s a must read novel about the boundlessness of the human imagination. Set against the backdrop of World War II England, the land of Narnia represents the timeless hope in a better, brighter future.
15. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
When 11-year-old orphan Anne Shirley goes to live with the middle-aged brother and sister Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, she discovers that there’s been some mistake and that they had actually wanted to adopt a boy. While this debacle initially drops Anne into a world where she fears being rejected and unloved, you’ll ultimately be rewarded as Anne’s spirited imagination and kind heart win over everyone whose life she touches. This is a heartwarming story of love and friendship and a poignant reminder that sometimes life not working out the way we want it to is actually the best thing that can happen.