ELA books are just getting too heavy

Lily Hemmeter, Staff Writer

In the first week of seventh grade, my English teacher apologized for all of the “depressing” books we would have to read that year. We started with one about the Yellow Fever, then the Holocaust, Communism and finally racial oppression. I suppose that class prepared me for all of the heavy topics we would be reading about in the years to come. But, should these books and topics even be in the English curriculum at all?

As the number of students struggling with mental health continues to rise, I can only wonder how the books they are assigned to read have impacted them—especially as the state of the world has gotten more and more grim in recent years. These students may not want to read about tragedies and depressed characters every time they step foot in an English class; “The Catcher in the Rye”, “The Kite Runner” and “Lord of the Flies” are not exactly cheerful books. I am not at all advocating for the erasure of topics like the Holocaust from our English curriculums; I think it is so important for students to read about those major historical events. I’m merely suggesting a better balance between the necessary heavy books and some lighter books. Jane Austen’s novels—including “Pride and Prejudice” and “Emma”—are great examples. They were written beautifully with lots of literary devices and represent a non-tragic time in history. It would immensely benefit students to have more books like that included in the English curriculum to give them breaks from the more grueling topics.

As someone who loves to read, even I have not enjoyed every school book I’ve been assigned. Of course, the purpose of these books is not to entertain us, but rather to help us learn. While I am fully aware of this, I believe there is something to be said for including more books in the curriculum that would appeal to students. A hatred of reading can often be attributed to years spent dissecting depressing school-assigned books. I think it is important to help students discover genres and authors that they might actually enjoy reading by . This would not only encourage good reading habits outside of school, but it would also motivate students to actually read the books, participate more in class discussions and try harder on written assignments. Assigning more uplifting books would benefit everyone in both the short-run and the long-run. 

While there are some amazing and important—albeit depressing—books in the English curriculum such as “Night” and “To Kill a Mockingbird”, it could be improved. Taking students’ mental and emotional needs into account when writing the curriculum is a necessary step towards diversifying the themes present in assigned books.