My favorite book is about a disgruntled student. He lives in a glorified closet, and he becomes convinced that he is a very special person. He believes that it is his duty to kill someone in order to prove his worth and make the world a better place. He has boyish charm and huge ambitions. You may be reminded of a certain book about a lovable wizard, but the book I’m describing is actually Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I believe that every high schooler should read this book.
Yes, I’m serious. Let me explain. I first read Crime and Punishment in my senior year of high school, when I was 16. I was absolutely enthralled by it, and I think that it has a lot to offer high school kids. Here are some of the strengths of Crime and Punishment:
- It provides a challenging experience that will help introduce high school seniors to college-level texts. This is especially important for students taking AP English Literature, which is commonly taught in the senior year of high school. Becoming familiar with challenging literature is essential for students of all disciplines. Those in the sciences will have to adjust to reading studies that are often difficult to parse, those in the humanities and English will need to hone their critical thinking and interpretive skills, and those in business and marketing will benefit from learning the beauty and power that the English language can possess. In short, any student could stand to benefit from reading a more challenging piece of literature. So, why Crime and Punishment?
- It’s relatable. I know you may not believe me when I say this, but I was deeply touched by the novel’s thoughts on alienation and the nature of greatness. I think many young people like to think that they’re destined for great things, and I think that self-esteem is very important for kids. But I also think that stories in which redemption is only possible with the help of others, like Crime and Punishment, can illuminate one of the biggest shortfalls of “success,” which is how alienating it can feel. Crime and Punishment reminded me to always stay grounded with the help of the people who care about me, and it’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten.
- It fearlessly explores deep questions of good, evil, justice, and injustice. Most students probably aren’t used to a hero as full of contradictions as Raskolnikov is: a charming, brilliant intellectual who is helpless, confused, and at times deranged. Every bit of the narration seems designed to make this man, who commits a heinous act at the beginning of the novel, seem as sympathetic as possible. Crime and Punishment is unique because it challenges students to reexamine their own worldviews, to question what they consider morally acceptable. It asks people what they really value in life: rigidity, or mercy? Punishment, or redemption? These are not easy questions, but I believe that every student would learn something about how they see the world from this book, and these lessons will prove valuable for students about to make the challenging transition from high school to college. Understanding why you believe the things you do can help students to cope with the disorienting experience of being a college freshman.
You may disagree, but I think that there’s no match to Crime and Punishment. Every high school student should read this book.