American Literature Honors
Summer Reading Assignment 2022

PART I: Select one of the following American novels to read. The purpose of this section is to expose you to a portrayal of America through a classic American text. As you read, take notes on the larger ideas about America - the history, ideals, promises, flaws - that the author explores.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Commonly named among the Great American Novels, the work is among the first in major American literature to be written throughout in vernacular English, characterized by local color regionalism. … The book, which was published in 1884, is noted for its colorful description of people and places along the Mississippi River. Set in a Southern antebellum society that had ceased to exist about 20 years before the work was published, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is an often scathing satire on entrenched attitudes, particularly racism. Perennially popular with readers, the novel has also been the continued object of study by literary critics since its publication. - From Amazon.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
First published in 1939, Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize winning epic of the Great Depression chronicles the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s and tells the story of one Oklahoma farm family, the Joads, driven from their homestead and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. Out of their trials and their repeated collisions against the hard realities of an America divided into haves and have-nots evolves a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision, elemental yet plainspoken, tragic but ultimately stirring in its human dignity. - From

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
In 1949, four Chinese women, recent immigrants to San Francisco, begin meeting to eat dim sum, play mahjong, and talk. United in shared loss and hope, they call themselves the Joy Luck Club. With wit and wisdom, Amy Tan examines the sometimes painful, often tender, and always deep connection between these four women and their American-born daughters as all navigate the realities of their heritage and their pursuit of the American Dream. As each reveals her secrets, trying to unravel the truth about her life, the strings become more tangled, more entwined. First published in 1989. - adapted from

Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich (revised edition)
Set on and around a North Dakota Ojibwe reservation, Love Medicine—the first novel by bestselling, National Book Award-winning author Louise Erdrich—is the epic story about the intertwined fates of two families: the Kashpaws and the Lamartines. With astonishing virtuosity, each chapter draws on a range of voices to limn its tales. Black humor mingles with magic, injustice bleeds into betrayal, and through it all, bonds of love and family marry the elements into a tightly woven whole that pulses with the drama of life. First published in 1984, the novel has been revised and reorganized by the author.- From Amazon

 The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, The Underground Railroad chronicles a young slave's adventures as she makes a desperate bid for freedom in the antebellum South. As Whitehead brilliantly re-creates the unique terrors for black people in the pre–Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once a kinetic adventure tale of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shattering, powerful meditation on the history we all share. - From Amazon

Assignments for PART I:

  1. Take notes while reading your selected novel, using the following Thematic Lenses to help focus your thinking and responses to the ideas in the text.

    1. Where you see the challenges related to striving for the American Dream in society

    2. Where you see the positive Promises of America in the text - its lofty ideals, positive values

    3. Where you see the Contradictions and ugly realities of America in the text - negative values, divisive conflict

    4. Where you see the Struggle for Identity, both as an individual and as a group in America

  2. Select at least 10 specific passages from the book that provide evidence of these ideas in play in the novel. Complete at least 10 well thought out and developed responses. Your passages must come from different parts of the text—not from a single chapter or cluster of chapters.

  3. Organize your passages and thinking using the Thematic Lenses. You might find that one passage can be examined through more than one lens. Use the lenses to help jump-start your thinking about the passage, the book as a whole, the author’s message…

Insightful and informed participation is critical in an honors level class, and good notes will give you a springboard into discussion. Keep the following suggestions in mind when you take notes and write your responses to the passages:

  • Find powerful textual evidence that reveals how the author thinks about America in terms of the different categories. For example, authors perceive the impact and importance of the American Dream differently; or they have different beliefs about how equal, just and fair American society is. Look for places in the novel where you hear your author’s take on American society, its flaws and strengths. How do the passages you selected convey commentary on America? How do the passages in the novel reveal the author’s ideas about the themes and how America operates?  How do the lines you select explore the author’s understanding of human nature?

  • Avoid simply summarizing.  Do not respond to a quotation by restating it in your own words. Do not simply retell the story from around your quote. What counts is how you respond to the ideas in the quote with your own thinking.

  • Take notes from the entire book.  The authors do not drop themes and ideas randomly as the book progresses; if anything, the ideas related to the themes grow stronger as the novel goes along, leading to the final, culminating scenes.  The most insightful responses will reference developing ideas from different parts of the text.

  • Do not use Spark Notes, Shmoop, or any other “aid” to understanding the novel.  These are long books, but they are easy to read.  Trust yourself and your ability, confront the text boldly, and don’t deprive yourself of an opportunity to tangle with a great book by a great American author.

Sample Response for notes in PART I

Here’s an example of how you might react to a section of text.  It is from Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Notice how examining the text through the different lenses comes through in the response to the text and how it helps us understand Bradbury’s point of view. Fahrenheit 451 is set in a dystopian world where reading books is outlawed and people are constantly barraged with mindless distractions and entertainment. In the response below, the novel’s main character, Montag, is complaining about this society:

“Nobody listens anymore. I can't talk to the walls because they're yelling at me, I can't talk to my wife; she listens to the walls. I just want someone to hear what I have to say. And maybe if I talk long enough it'll make sense. And I want you to teach me to understand what I read.” (78)

At this point in the book, Montag is just starting to figure out that there are some serious problems in society. For the first time he is thinking like an individual and seeking something beyond the mindless entertainment and distractions that are everywhere. This struggle for identity is not just about Montag, but about the society as a whole. It seems that through the character of Montag, the author is voicing his opinions about the shallowness of American consumer society, which values entertainment and noise over thoughtful reading and intelligent thought. Montag can’t even concentrate enough to read more than a sentence or two. Bradbury is critical of the society’s misguided values in the novel, which place more emphasis on being entertained and buying big TV walls to escape from reality over more important values such as critical thinking and conversation. The American Dream may involve working to become successful so you can buy a bigger house or a nicer car, but Bradbury is pointing out the contradiction of the American Dream: as we strive to get more and more, we risk letting those desires consume us, and we will lose sight of what’s really valuable - personal connections, thinking, understanding the past.

Commentary on student response: Notice how this response contains the student’s interpretation of important ideas from the novel as well as some analysis of what the author is trying to convey. The highlighted categories from the notes are used to deepen the understanding and discuss how the larger ideas are developed in the novel. Although the response discusses ideas outside the text, it does not stray far and maintains a focus on the specifics from the novel.

PART II: Read each of the Supplementary Readings listed below:
Copies of these will be posted on the Google Classroom page. You are responsible for printing them out and bringing hard copies to class in the fall.

Non fiction essays

  1. Excerpt from Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville (1835)

  2. “Letter from an American Farmer: Letter III: What is an American?” by Hector St. John De Crevecoeur (1780s)


  1. “I Hear America Singing” by Walt Whitman (1860)

  2. “I, Too” by Langston Hughes (1926) 

  3. “38” by Layli Long Soldier (2017)

Note-taking Assignments for PART II

  1. Read each of the five supplementary readings listed above to help you understand different perspectives on America - its promises, its ideals - and how the American Dream is viewed differently by writers over the years. 

  2. Take notes on each text: Your notes should be ideas and text examples related to the following bulleted focus areas. When you return to school in the fall, be prepared to intelligently discuss your ideas, compare the different texts, and write about them.

  • What American issues or conflicts are evident in the text? How the idea of the American spirit or American Dream is evident in the text.

  • What the author is saying about what promise America holds, the ideals of America, the contradictions in America, its underlying values both positive and negative.

  • What point is the author trying to make about America?

  1. Compile your notes and submit them at the beginning of school. You should have different notes for each selection. For each text, submit a page of notes. It does not need to be written out as an essay. Your thinking can also be completed in thoughtful margin notes on a copy of the text. Your notes should provide evidence of your thinking and how the author’s ideas are reflected in the bulleted areas above.

In the fall, there will be a quiz based on the readings modeled after an SAT-type Reading for Information exam.

PART III: Learn the vocabulary words and the definitions below and be ready to be quizzed on them the first weeks of school:

Summer Reading Vocabulary List 2022

acrid - unpleasant to taste or smell

petulant - huffy, snappish, irritable

amenity - a desirable or useful feature or facility of a building or place

pretense - false appearance

appellation - a name, title, or designation

prodigy - person with exceptional talents

belligerent - aggressive, quarrelsome

prostrate - face-down, drained, exhausted

benefactor - a person who gives money or other help to a person or cause

provisions - an amount or thing supplied or provided

benevolent - characterized by being or doing good

quandary - a state of perplexity or uncertainty over what to do in a difficult situation

brash - self-assertive in a rude, noisy, or overbearing way

rampant - flourishing or spreading unchecked

brooding - showing deep unhappiness of thought appearing darkly menacing

ravenous - famished, very hungry, starving

chastise - criticize; punish; reprimand

regal - royal

confound - confuse; puzzle

remorse - feeling of regret for one's misdeeds or sins

conjecture - guess, infer, speculate

repose - to be in peace and at rest

contemptuous - disdainful, sneering, despicable

revere - treat with respect

contrite - remorseful, apologetic

row - a loud noise or uproar

cunning - deceitful cleverness

ruse - a crafty plan

discrepancy - a lack of compatibility or similarity between two or more facts

spry - lively, active (especially an older person)

dispensation - exemption from a rule or usual requirement

subsistence - means of support or livelihood; often the barest

disposition - a person's inherent qualities of mind and character

sullen - surly, brooding, somber

dissipate - scatter, disperse

sultry - hot and humid

gaudy - flashy, showy; not in good taste

supplication - entreaty, prayer, request

imperious - commanding, haughty, overbearing

transcend - rise above, go beyond, excel

imperishable - enduring forever

truculent - hostile, defiant, confrontational

incredulous - disbelieving, skeptical

uncanny - mysteriously strange

insolent - arrogant; presumptuous and insulting

unfettered - free from restraints, liberated

languish - to become weak

unkempt - untidy, disheveled, scruffy

listless - limp, lacking energy, languid

vigorously - done with force or energy

loathing - great dislike

vivacious - lively, cheerful, energetic

obsolete - no longer produced or used, out of date

wane - diminish, fade, decrease

paradox - an apparently contradictory statement that actually contains some truth

wizened - wrinkled, shriveled, aged

penitent - sorry, contrite, regretful

wry - dryly humorous, cynical

pert - attractively lively