The books we fell in love with at school

Whether we were studying them, or passing them round to our friends like contraband, for World Book Day we take a look at the books we discovered in our schooldays.

A collection of book covers on a dark background.
Image: Alicia Fernandes/Penguin

The books we read during our school days, no matter how we felt about them at the time, stay with us.

Whether its analysing William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to exhaustion or remembering how Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck leaves us really sad, we’re still talking about them deep into adulthood.

To mark World Book Day 2021, we thought we'd share some of the books that left an indelible imprint on us at school (and, cheating slightly, at university). Which would be on your list?

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938)

Despite being an avid reader from early childhood, I was never particularly excited by English lessons at school. In comparison to the Golden Age crime novels and other pacy books I read at home, we never seemed to read anything that captured my attention – but all that changed in one Year 8 English lesson. I distinctly remember sitting in class with nothing to do, having sped through whatever it was we were meant to be reading, and my English teacher handing me a copy of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca to keep me occupied. I was glued to that book for a couple of days and it opened me up to a whole new genre of writing that I hadn’t encountered before, and which I still enjoy to this day.

Indira Birnie, senior marketing manager

Life of Pi by Yann Martel (2001)

I went to school in Canada, where we get probably too excited about Canadian success stories. So when Yann Martel’s Life of Pi won the 2002 Booker Prize, you’d better believe it made its way swiftly onto my grade 10 English curriculum – where a 15-year-old me absolutely gobbled it up.

If I recall correctly, reading that novel made me feel smart: the story, about a young Indian Tamil boy stranded in a lifeboat with a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan and, most notably, a tiger, felt worldly to me, and the magical realism – combined with the question at the book’s end, about the very nature of truth and belief – felt impossibly deep.

Stephen Carlick, associate editor

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1963)

I often wonder why Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar isn’t more readily included on school syllabuses. While I remember few of the books on the curriculum fondly (there was one summer after GCSEs where we all slugged, painfully, through a certain wartime-set bildungsroman), Plath’s only novel has much, I’d say, to offer young people. It’s a book that applies a laser-like scrutiny to the expectations placed on women in the 1960s as well as mental ill-health and the taboos it induced. More than that, it captures what it is to be a girl on the cusp of womanhood they’re not sure they want to sign up to. While I originally found it something of a cliche when first given it, at 17, Esther’s story is one I found myself connecting with and returning to throughout my young womanhood.

Alice Vincent, features editor 

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