Any opinions on these books from my son's Catholic high school English class?


We are almost decided on signing up my son for a “great books” English class online, instead of having him take English at his Catholic high school this coming school year. As one last bit of due diligence, I want to ask if anyone has opinions on any of the following books. These are some of the books that are read at his school (some during freshman year, and some during sophomore year). I have omitted books that I know are fine (like a couple of Shakespeare plays), and I’m listing only the ones that I am not very familiar with or that look like they might be problematic:

  • The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
  • On Writing by Stephen King
  • The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  • Nickel and Dimed, On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich
  • The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver

I am somewhat familiar with Lord of the Flies, and I know the basic story. I also have heard that the Stephen King book is very good, except that he uses a lot of profanity.

I have done a bit of research on the others (mainly reading the book descriptions and some reviews on Amazon), but I don’t know much about them. The Secret Life of Bees and The Bean Trees both look like they might have a feminist slant, though I am not sure about that. I also read that The Bean Trees discusses sexual molestation of a baby girl, which is not something that I want my high schooler reading about. And I understand the basic idea behind Nickel and Dimed, and I could see it potentially being a very good book, but I could also see it potentially being very problematic in some ways.

If anyone here has read any of these books, or has heard any reliable information about them, I would appreciate your perspective, particularly whether you would consider these to be appropriate and worthwhile reading for a Catholic high schooler.


A child is raised in a silken cocoon will not have coping skills once he emerges from Catholic family, parish, and school. Critical reading skills are an essential survival skill. Talk to your son’s teacher about the content you think is objectionable, and how he/she plans on dealing with such content. You might be surprised.

It is a nasty world out there, and he needs to be educated about the snares; not walk directly into them because he cannot recognize them.


Lord of the Flies was already being taught when I was in school in the early 70’s.

I ready “Nickeled and Dimed”, good book for high school kids- scare them straight a little so they keep their noses in the books. The book tells the author’s adventure in trying to get by working in big retail stores and other low skilled/low pay work


Are you suggesting that you should censor what your son can read? How about you read them as well and then you can discuss them with your son.

Just a thought…


High school is the time when kids need to start reading some books that are perhaps outside the “comfort zone” in order to prepare them for college level work, when they will be regularly expected to read books that have literary value but perhaps aren’t in line with Catholic or other religious values. As long as your son is not particularly sensitive to his reading material and is mature enough to handle the content, I don’t think it is helpful for parents to be censoring his reading list.

I know when I was in AP English in Catholic school, i had a summer reading list provided by the school that contained choices like Mailer’s “The Naked and the Dead” (famous for the constant use of a modified f-word as well as other content) and something by Gide dealing with sexual immorality in France that had in a previous era been banned by the Church. May have been other stuff as well. Part of learning advanced English is to be able to read things from a literary viewpoint that do not necessarily mirror your own viewpoint or morals.

I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with any of the books on the list. As someone said, if you are concerned a better approach would be for you to also read them and discuss them with your son if you think that’s absolutely necessary. I don’t think anyone reading about molestation of a baby is going to suddenly get the idea it is okay to do that, and reading about it as a plot point in a book is pretty much like reading a news story about it in the paper.


I agree. And the Shakespeare plays (many of them), which the OP mentions as fine, are also full of “worldly” happenings that young people should be aware of.


The Lord of Flies contains no profanity. I read it twice when I was in high school by own will. It is a moralistic story about society through the eyes of teens. Really good.


I agree with this entirely. Critical reading and thinking should be encouraged. Reading widely should also be encouraged.

Ask the teacher how they plan to deal with the tough subjects.


The time when your kiddos enter the teen years is a good time to shore yourself up on your own Catholic knowledge.

I’m generally opposed to censoring books for teens (not an absolute rule, it depends on the book, the teen in question and the general tenor of their life ATM), but offensive books can be a good opportunity for a teaching moment.

I also think that while we shelter littles, the teen years are a good time to start exposing them little by little to what’s out there in the world, when you can explain things to them.

And there are no guarantees of how your kids will turn out. They are not programmable robots…


I would look up reviews on the teacher or what students or parents of students that had this teacher have to say.

We had a great lineup of books to read my senior year and we got through about half because the teacher was so inept. And this was an AP English class.


The Steven King book is a text on how to write fiction, I believe.


In some classes, not every word in the book is read. Check with the teacher about the actual amount of reading required.


Lord of the Flies was being taught when I was in school in the late 80’s and early 90’s. That was in a Catholic school at that and I don’t see anything objectionable in there ultimately. It’s dark and a bit grim but it has points about human nature well worth listening to. We had Coriolanus as I recall, the Canterbury Tales (in the original Middle English), Macbeth, oodles of literary works by Christopher Marlowe etc. etc. I was probably an annoying student looking back as I’d actual read all the set books and I can recall been asked when looking bored by the teacher, ‘Could I tell him about the chapter and focus on it please?’ It was irritating I suspect when I actually could tell him what it was about. Eventually the teacher gave me add on work to do as he could see it was boring for me going over books I’d already read.


Here’s a handy video for Lord of the Flies hosted by John Green, he does a series on literature;


Lord of the Flies is a classic.


I’m also willing to bet “The Bean Trees” is on the list because a large part of the story concerns illegal Mexican immigrants to USA, portraying them in a sympathetic light. Trendy topic, ahoy.


Thank you to all who have replied. It’s clear that some of you have a different educational philosophy than I do, and that’s fine. I respect that. However, I don’t appreciate the accusations that I am censoring what my son can read, as if parents should have no role in guiding their children toward good reading material.

I believe that a good literary education is one in which emphasis is given to classic books that have shaped our civilization and our culture. That doesn’t mean that I see no value in reading contemporary books, but I would not place much emphasis on contemporary books if I were designing a literary curriculum. I’m not asking anyone here to agree with me on that, but just explaining where I am coming from.

What would be more helpful to me than a critique of my educational philosophy would be any information you might be able to provide about these specific books. A few of you have provided your take on Lord of the Flies, and what you have written lines up pretty well with what I have heard about that book – i.e., it is a classic dystopian tale with at least some literary value. Thank you for those responses.

And yes, I am aware that the Stephen King book is a book about the process of writing. I have heard that it is a very good book on that subject, but one knock I have heard against it is that he liberally uses profanity in the book. If anyone has read the book and agrees or disagrees with this assessment, I would love to hear what you think.

If anyone has read any of the other books on the list, I would appreciate hearing your thoughts on those books as well, especially in terms of whether you would consider them appropriate or worthwhile for high school reading. Thanks again.


There’s a lot of profanity in On Working by Stephen King.
It’s an amazing book, not just as a writing manual but an interesting autobiography. I’ve read it about five times. I highly recommend it, despite the profanity.


I’m sorry, Paul, but if you are going to decide what your son can and cannot read, whether you empasise literary value or not, that is censorship.

That is not necessarily a bad thing as no-one would be blamed for telling their 14 year old that he or she was not allowed to read pornography. But that is not the case here.

My personal view is that our children should be challenged intellectually and that must include them reading literature that doesn’t conform to our (or their) pre-existing views.

Notwithstanding that you shouldn’t be basing your decision on opinions from random people on a forum. Including mine. As I said, you would be better off reading the books yourself and discussing their literary value with your son.

That sounds like a win win situation to me.


King’s On Writing is, in a way, a writer’s manual. He discusses different writing methods, alongside sharing tips and tricks that he has picked up throughout his writing career. At an educational stand view, it makes perfect sense as to why the English teacher selected it.

If it concerns you, I suggest you read the books yourself and then discuss the topics at great length with your son. His education is important, and he may very well turn around and say “mom, I don’t like this book and that book”.

If anything, I hope he thoroughly enjoys King’s book. He’s one of my favourite authors :wink:

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit