Lit-erally ranking the AP Lit books

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Despite my purported passion for science, I’ve always found my greatest enjoyment in English classes, and AP English Literature and Composition (AP Lit) is no different. Taught by Mrs. Jennifer Bolanos-Cadenas and Mr. Jared Lemole, the class helps us learn to analyze speaker’s tones, discover character motivation in short passages and find meaning in the mundane (and much more).

These skills are necessary to complete the multiple choice section and two of the three essays. The third, however, requires us to draw on our own literary knowledge, choosing a work of fiction and analyzing it based on a prompt. Not just any work of fiction flies, though: the work generally must be of some literary significance as it’s difficult to find the complexity necessary for a good score on this essay in most mass-produced fiction. That’s where the required AP Lit reading comes in. 

Over the course of the year, we read four books, one of which we might just be able to use on the AP exam. But which books reign supreme, and which are best left to the bookshelves? Let’s find out:

#4 – “Frankenstein”

It’s aaaaaalliiiiiive, it’s aaaaalliiiive! Except… this book is so boring I felt like I was dying. Okay, that’s an exaggeration, but Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” doesn’t even include that iconic line. Maybe it’s because I read “Frankenstein” in one sitting on an uncomfortable couch at midnight, but I found myself soured on it right from the start, where it opened to a list of tedious letters from a completely random character. Within those letters came the titular Frakenstein’s story, and within that story came yet another story. Each successive story-within-a-story made the overall novel more bogged down as I struggled to find purpose for some of the detail and narration. I won’t go much more into spoilers, but suffice to say, by the end of it, I was practically rooting for the monster to finish the job given how unlikable everyone else was. I understand why the book is so famous — it essentially kick-started the horror sci-fi genre after all — but I’ve read other books with similar messages on morality that are much more engaging (like “The Picture of Dorian Gray.”)  I suppose being one of the first to explore the concept deserves praise, though.

#3 – “King Lear”

The Bard’s works live on, and his famous tragedy “King Lear” is no exception. Unfortunately, unlike other Shakespearean works, “King Lear”’s message is mostly lost in today’s world. The entire conflict stems from one of the main characters, Cordelia, refusing to exaggerate her love for her father. His disproportionate reaction to this — disowning and banishing her — makes no sense, and his subsequent irrational behavior throughout the play further cements the fact that he is genuinely insane (meaning that I apparently agree with the antagonists). The play moves at a breakneck pace, with scheming villains and rapid takeovers broken up by odd forays into the woods where the characters speak in nonsensical rhymes that we must find meaning in. I won’t spoil the end, but I’m left at a loss to what the main takeaway is. Are we supposed to tell the truth even if it costs us everything, when a small white lie will have no negative effect and in fact have a positive one? As entertaining as it was to see all the political chaos, the message didn’t resonate, especially since almost all the characters behaved utterly senselessly with no explanation as to why they acted this way.

#2 – “Their Eyes Were Watching God”

Zora Neale Hurston’s novel explores love, womanhood and racial tensions through the lens of a middle-aged black woman, Janie, reflecting on her past. The initial narration is jarring to get through at first for readers like me, who are unfamiliar with the Southern dialect, but once I got used to it, I could really sit back and enjoy all the story had to offer. I found Janie as a protagonist a refreshing change from most Western media where the “strong main character” is often an educated white man and is almost never a poor black woman. Janie deviated from this norm, and explored heavy concepts like systematic racism and the power of silence through her unique lens. Janie, although dependent on the men in her life, was her own character through and through, and I really liked seeing the complexities of how a woman can be both weak and strong depending on one’s perspective.

#1 – “Brave New World”

Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” takes the number one spot — and really, could it have ever been anything else? I first read this novel in middle school, and reading it again recently, I was gobsmacked at how poignant and lasting the novel’s message is today. Unlike similar dystopian novels like “1984,” where the government subjugates its people through fear and terror, “Brave New World” asserts that people are best controlled through happiness. Freedom, passion, love — these are the factors that drive us, and they are also how we can lose ourselves. The characters’ motivations and behaviors make sense given the context, with the story progressing in a coherent and understandable way. Even the most uncomfortable violent and sexual scenes have an underlying message, reminding us that anyone can fall victim to a scheme and become a monster merely if their wants are satisfied. There are really no truly good or evil characters in this story, only those trying to live in whatever way they know best.

AP Lit students read several classic novels over the school year, including “Frankenstein” and “Brave New World,” pictured above. (Photo/Ella Gohari)

Senior Ellaheh Gohari is entering her fourth (and sadly final) year on staff and third year as co-EIC of the Patriot Post. She loves learning new things and can often be found going down Wikipedia rabbit holes in search of random knowledge. Outside of room 25310, she serves as co-president to both the Girls Excelling in Math and Science club and the Science National Honor Society. A science-lover, she enjoys exploring the subject through research projects with UMiami, volunteer tutoring with OTTER and fact-checks with MediaWise. She hopes you enjoy your time reading the Patriot Post.