Obviously, the requirements of the GCSE syllabus mean that there is very little need to choose class readers at KS4, so what I have outline below is a list of books that I think would make good choices to stretch this age group for independent reading or extended/project work. Also see the list of coming of age novels and the Top 100 novels on the A-level page.
All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque
A brilliant description of
World War One trench warfare as seen from the point of view of a young
German soldier. Paul joins the army straight out of school on a wave of
patriotic fervour, but disillusionment follows very quickly. A graphic
description of the horror and futility of war.
Dear Nobody, Berlie Doherty
Beautifully told story of a teenage love affair and how the resulting pregnancy affects not only the couple, Helen and Chris, but everyone around them. There is a play script as well.
I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
A classic from the 1950s, but with a fairly recent film version (2007), this
sci-fi favourite tells the story of Robert Neville, a lone human survivor of a
virus that has turned the rest of the population into vampires. Battling
against them as he tries to find a cure for the virus, he is eventually forced
to confront the question of his essential humanity.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
The first volume of this autobiography by Award-winning African-American poet Maya Angelou covers her childhood growing up in the racially segregated Deep South during the 1940s. Beautifully written and delivers a powerful emotional impact.
A classic from the 1950s, but with a fairly recent film version (2007), this sci-fi favourite tells the story of Robert Neville, a lone human survivor of a virus that has turned the rest of the population into vampires. Battling against them as he tries to find a cure for the virus, he is eventually forced to confront the question of his essential humanity.
Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
Kathy, Tommy and Ruth grew up in the strange environs of Hailsham House which combined elements of orphanage, boarding school, hospital and prisons. Slowly, they learn that they have a purpose in life that sets them apart from normal society; they are clones, bred to be harvested for their organs.
Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen
This is the Austen to start with, as only a teenager can empathise with Marianne and Elinor simultaneously, or see the appeal of Willoughby for that matter.
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
Again, I think this should be the entry-level Bronte, as the heroine is far easier to empathise with than the appalling Cathy. But maybe that's just me.
The Book Thief, Marcus Zusak
Flawed but fascinating tragedy set in WWII Germany, it follows the fortunes of Leisel through the horrors of the war. The main character in the book, however, is arguably the narrator – Death. Not suitable for KS3, but a challenging read for a bright KS4 pupil.
The Outsiders, S E Hinton
Hinton was only 16 years old when she wrote this Sixties classic about teenage gang warfare. More than 40 years on it is still deservedly popular among teens. A good recommendation as a preparation to studying Romeo and Juliet.
Lord of the Flies, William Golding
Obviously this is still on many exam board syllabi, but if it isn't on yours then press it on your Y10s so they can see just what could happen when a free period gets out of control.
The Reader, Bernhard Schlink
Too much sex in it to be suitable for KS3, but for KS4 independent reading this German novel about a boy’s relationship with a former concentration camp guard is by far the best take on the issue of guilt and responsibility I have read.