Ms J’s Book Picks

City High English teacher Haley Johannesen talks about why she loves the books that she recommends for high school students.


Kate Kueter

Ms J recommends her summer book picks.

Kate Kueter, Video Editior

The House on Mango Street

“[Esperanza] experiences things in the world that I think high schoolers grapple with themselves and are not always sure how they’re supposed to feel and she assures students and high schoolers. It’s okay not to know how to feel all the time. And it’s okay to just have feelings. I think the story would still have an impact but I think if you are experiencing some of the things that she experiences, as you are growing up, it might have a heavier impact when you are a high schooler rather than a sophomore in college. Some of the moments you might be able to say, ‘Oh my gosh, that just happened to me.'”

Esperanza, a twelve-year-old Chicana (Mexican-American girl), and her parents move from their old apartment to a run-down small house on Mango Street in the center of the crowded Latino community of Chicago. Esperanza does not have any privacy in her new community and is determined to leave Mango Street and get a house of her own. The book follows a year in the life of Esperanza as she matures emotionally and sexually. She develops a crush, makes friends, deals with a changing body, endures sexual assault, and finds writing as an outlet for expressing herself and escaping her neighborhood. Along with Esperanza, “The House on Mango Street” also follows the stories of people in the neighborhood. Esperanza works with her friends to work through her sexual trauma and her friends’ parental abuse.

Between the World and Me

“I think it’s interesting to have a perspective of how much the adults in your life care for you. Sometimes I think that we, and I say we because high schoolers and adults take for granted how much our parents and our guardians above us, care about us. [The book has] poetic writing or more lyrical than other books that might be considered required reading for high schoolers. And I think that when students see what writing can do and how writing can be sort of bending those genres or be sort of a poetic experience, they realized that reading can be enjoyable and easy.”

Between the World and Me is written in a long letter format from Ta-Nehisi Coates to his fifteen-year-old son, Samori. It is not a normal narrative story, but rather Coates’ thoughts and opinions on the world and how they changed.