You may have read Pride and Prejudice in an English class, and then proceeded to analyze it to death, write an essay, and take a test. Understandably, this may have affected your thoughts regarding “classic” literature. However, there is a lot that is actually quite enjoyable, particularly for teens who are looking for something slightly more advanced – and interesting – than many of the lighter teen novels.
A lot of the classics, even Austen-era British literature, are surprisingly great reads. Austen’s novels are, it is true, used so frequently in English classes that they tend to lose their charm, but there are many other similarly classified novels that are just as good, or better. Many of these books read surprisingly like modern novels, with great characters, romance, action, and the benefit of beautiful writing. Some of my favorite “classics,” and those I would most highly recommend to teens, are Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte, and Middlemarch, by George Eliot.
Jane Eyre is another book that can be over-read and overused in the classroom environment, but it is a very good book for teens looking for something just a step above the standard teen romance novel. Jane is a governess for Mr. Rochester, with whom she, of course, falls in love. The novel, somewhat unlike those by Jane Austen, contains quite a bit of adventure and mystery. It is a surprisingly gripping story, and a very enjoyable read.
Middlemarch, though 700 pages long, is another book I would immediately recommend to teens who read at a slightly higher level. What I most loved about this book was the way it flawlessly interwove so many characters and subplots. All the characters were incredibly believable, as were the events in the story. Middlemarch is slightly less thrilling than Jane Eyre, plotwise, but the stories and insights contained within it are more than enough to keep the reader interested.
I would also recommend Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, by Muriel Spark, and Emma, by Jane Austen.
~Amelia, Teen Center Advisor