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An All-School Reading List

There have been over 25 submissions for the All-School Read from students, faculty, staff, and parents. Not all can become All-School Reads, but the submissions make for an excellent reading list of any kind.
The Holderness All-School Read is an annual tradition for Holderness’s students, parents, faculty, staff, and alumni. Each year, individuals from the community nominate a variety of books. A secret and august committee convenes in the spring and selects a book for the All-School Read.

The nominations for the All-School Read are varied, sometimes passionate, sometimes humorous, but almost always thoughtful. Since February, Academic Dean and English teacher Peter Durnan has encouraged and inspired nominations. He has shared the many proposals with the community. There have been over 25 submissions from students, faculty, staff, and parents. Of course, not all can become All-School Reads, but the submissions make for an excellent reading list of any kind. Below is a sampling of the submissions, some reduced but each still contains the submitter’s intent in suggesting the book:

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a journey about faith. Harold Fry's walk was redemption to his friend Queenie, to his wife, and to himself. Although every step was trembling, he kept his promise to finish on foot. The blisters on his feet, the red and numb legs, and the worn soles only brought him to a short rest and return on the road with a stronger faith. It was also a journey about love. Harold suffered from his son David's suicide for a long time. His wife drifted apart from him for the same reason. The indifference between them lasted for twenty years. But on this journey, both started to reflect on their love and care for each other and finally opened their minds. Even they were no longer young, even with years of blame, they still had the courage to regain love. It was a pilgrimage to No Regret.

Harold Fry's journey inspires me when I'm at the most difficult moments. We may think about giving up countless times, but as long as we have a spark of perseverance, love, and faith, we won't give up. We all need that spark. --Submitted by a twelfth grader


Although I still like Educated the best as the school ASSR, a runner-up in my mind is the book Ordinary Grace by William Kent Kreuger.  It is a coming-of-age story of a boy growing up in the midwest.  The book is very well written and keeps one's interest throughout.  There are mysteries about some of the characters, there are murders that need to be resolved, and there are family issues that are realistically complex and will resonate with all readers.  The book is deep enough to have important themes to explore without being unreachably intellectually challenging, and the events are described in ways that make them intriguing and believable. Best of all, the book is uplifting in its outcomes and encourages our faith in humanity, love, and justice.  I hope that many will read this book, whether or not it is chosen! --Submitted by a faculty member


The History of Love, by Nicole Krauss...The book follows, or better yet leads, the stories of a handful of characters whose lives are unknowingly intertwined, and whose connections are ultimately revealed, by Leo’s book in a surprising conclusion.
The author, Nicole Krauss, weaves this story with both precision and observational familiarity. Her descriptive force is inventive and likeably understated. Each chapter is alternatively written from different characters’ points of view, leaving the reader to piece the story together like a detective uncovering clues.
Throughout the book Krauss reflects, through her characters of different ages and eras, on the meaning and power of love in many forms: the unrelenting memory of love, unrequited love, the care for family, dedication to promises made, loyalty of friends, and the hope of love realized, to name a few. Ultimately, it is love that carries us through our lives, and produces the strongest bonds that shape them. This book allows us to unlock our hearts and listen to its most powerful and essential beat. --Submitted by a faculty member

For the All-School summer read I would like to recommend Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield This is personally one of my favorite books. Gates of Fire is a historical novel about the last stand of the 300 Spartans against the mighty Persian Empire at the Battle of Thermopylae. This novel is really hard to put down once you start reading it. It is about the realities of war and the fear and despair that comes from it. However, it is also about perseverance, strength, camaraderie, love, and about conquering fear.

Narrated from the fictional point of view of the only survivor of the battle, it tells the story of true friendship in times of adversity, especially how one small group stood against not just an army of hundreds of thousands, but against tyranny and the threat of enslavement. Some argue this is one of the battles that changed the fate of the world and this novel truly captures that tense and decisive moment in history. Not only that, but once you get to know the characters you find out how they stayed hopeful and positive throughout the whole battle even when they knew it was not going to end well…

Even though this book is about the horrors of war and how humans sometimes choose to treat each other, it is ultimately about hope, inspiration and how love conquers fear. I am certain students will find it very inspirational, gripping, and hard to put down, I know I did when I first read it. --Submitted by a faculty member


I'd like to nominate Beartown by Fredrik Backman for the All-School Summer Read.  I read it over Out Back and got to a point where I had a hard time putting it down.  Backman has created very complex characters, many of whom are teenagers. I was sad when the book ended because I had grown attached to many of the characters.  The subject matter is mature, but I think it is relevant and important for us to read and discuss. I loved this book and I would love for some others to read it too so I can talk about it! --Submitted by a faculty member and also a current parent

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay is one of my all-time favorite books for a variety of reasons. I tend to be drawn to African literature in general as my mother was born there. Although the author is white, the protagonist is white, and the African society of the time was deeply segregated, the relationships within the novel draw upon humanity moving around their prejudices to help each other. Perhaps the setting could also allow for a depth of conversation about prejudice that situations closer to home make more challenging. There is a wealth of discussion topics among the various friendships within the book as well as with the goal of Peekay himself - to rise above bullying to be a champion. --Submitted by a current parent, trustee 


For this summer's All-School Read, I would like to recommend the book Chains written by Laurie Halse Anderson. Chains is a story based around the time of the Revolutionary War. Thirteen-year-old Isabel and her younger sister, Ruth, are slaves that fight for their freedom...
After the equity and inclusion workshops [earlier this year], I realized that it is important to understand that people were categorized for how they looked. African-Americans, women, LGBTQ people, and many others didn't get the equality that they deserved. Chains reflects on how African-Americans didn't have equality and how they had to suffer through slavery. Overall, Chains is a story that always kept me at the edge of my seat and I think would be a successful All-School Read. --Submitted by a ninth grader


I recently had to choose a novel for Ms.Sparkman's seminar class...I chose Ready Player One by Earnest Cline because I watched the major motion picture version directed by Steven Spielberg. Honestly, I was quite impressed with the film, that is until I finished the novel, which was ten times better!

The book is about a young man living in a future dystopian society and using a virtual reality rig to escape the horrid phenomena of the real world. This virtual reality program is known as "the OASIS". A challenge has been left for all OASIS users for a large sum of money courtesy of James Halliday, the creator of the Virtual Reality program. (That is all I am going to explain as I don't want to spoil the book too much)

This was a very interesting book for me and I believe many high school students would enjoy it as well. --Submitted by a twelfth grader


I'm not sure if this book choice fits in with the overall theme for the summer reading program, but I found a lot of validation in the book, Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. There is a very strong connection between 'the Mind' and 'the Body' and this book has an 'Idiot's Guide to the Human Body' feel to me in that it provides some empirical support to what everyone feels intrinsically at some times in their life: the best way to deal with 'mental stuff' (e.g. anger, fear, insecurity, depression, self-doubt, etc) is to MOVE through it and to FEEL how amazing the human body is and can be. NO other life on the planet can move things the way that we can and there is deep therapy and joy in realizing how spectacular we are. Another cool thing this book explains is how exercise can be a powerfully therapeutic modality for 'individually normalizing' brain chemistry which leads to increased focus and mental abilities as well as positively modulating those pesky and sometimes unexplainable emotional influences on our mindset. --Submitted by a staff member


I would like to submit Winter Loon, written by Susan Bernhard, for the 2019 All-School Read.
Winter Loon is a coming-of-age story about a boy, Wes, abandoned by his father after his mother falls through the ice and drowns in a frozen Minnesota lake. He struggles with is guilt associated with his mother’s death and the choice he makes during the tragic incident.  Wes's life is difficult, full of challenge and at times heartbreaking; yet his story is an inspiring and a thoughtful study of the complexities of family, identity and the nature of true belonging. --Submitted by a current parent


The Push by Tommy Caldwell: Besides being an engaging book, the story reflects (with a lot of raw candor) upon the nature of intelligence, co-dependent relationships, social-media distraction, and obsessive goal-seeking. The audiobook version is excellent. I also think that the proximity of campus to Rumney Rocks/cathedral ledge and the outback experience of Holderness would provide an opportunity to explore lots of local connections to the book. As an obsessive climber, consider me both willing to contribute and highly biased! --Submitted by a staff member


For this summer's All-School Read, I would like to recommend one of my favorite books, Shooting Kabul written by N.H Senzai. This book is about the hardships of a twelve-year-old boy named Fadi, and his family escaping from Afghanistan to the United States to create a better life for themselves. However, when they are trying to cross the border to Pakistan, Fadi's six-year-old sister is accidentally left behind. The book goes on to cover the difficulties of trying to get the sister back to the U.S after 9/11 just took place. He makes other personal realizations, not only about himself but the world around him through photography. Overall, this is a heartfelt story about the reality of refugees, and you really begin to empathize with each character and their own unique experiences. This should be the All-School Read because it will give insight to some of these real-life scenarios, and in general is a book that keeps you on the edge of your seat. --Submitted by a ninth grader


I would like to suggest City of Thieves by David Benioff for the All-School Read.
This is a great book. The book is about two young men that are sent to get a dozen eggs for a Soviet officer during the siege of Leningrad in World War 2. They travel to many places and go on an adventure of a lifetime. This should be the All-School Read because it is a fun book for high schoolers to read. --Submitted by a tenth grader


Educated by Tara Westover ... a memoir about growing up among Mormon fundamentalist survivalists in Idaho (near Ruby Ridge) and breaking away to ultimately earn a doctorate from Cambridge University.  What I like about this book is that it compellingly shows why it is important to be engaged in the world and not to cede the formation of one’s opinions to others be they family members, clergy, politicians, or internet conspiracy theorists.  As this generation says, "Stay Woke." It is quite inspirational, too! --Submitted by a staff member

Another submission for Educated states: We believe that a gripping view of reality in some rural parts of the United States.  It would easily provide the basis for thoughtful discussion of access and overcoming hardships; of social isolation and social integration; of bias and expanded viewpoints through education and experience; but most of all, of the power of family ties and the human desire for self-determination and for love. --Submitted jointly by two faculty members


Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson.  My personal opinion is that any person who calls America home (even temporarily) should read this book. --Submitted by a current parent

Another submission for Just Mercy shared: ...The book is a powerful account because of the use of storytelling to illustrate the horrors of the prison system. Stevenson connects the reader to black men sentenced to death and describes his own battles to help as many people as possible while acknowledging that not every person who claims innocence truly is. This book left me inspired with tears in my eyes and genuinely changed what I hope to do once I finish my education. It is my number one recommendation for any book that I want everyone to read. It is easy not to read this complex, upsetting, and eye-opening book. But doing so is transforming and leaves you a different person than when you began. And that is the ultimate praise for a work of literature. --Submitted anonymously


How can we talk about a global phenomenon as a human experience? Mosin Hamid's spare yet spacious novel Exit West explores migration through the experiences of Saeed and Nadia, ordinary people whose lives change when militants overtake their unnamed country. Hamid's displaced do not take to the roads or the sea, however. They move from place to place through magical doors that directly link place to place and facilitate a network of instantaneous crossings. The novel explores the ways in which communities and relationships are both broken and created through constant movement. In an interview about the book, Hamid explained, "The more that people who are economically freezing and precarious become aware of places where people are economically warmer and more safe, the more they want to move. We need to figure out how to build a vision for this coming reality that isn’t a disaster, that is humane and even inspiring.”  --Submitted anonymously


I feel compelled to recommend the book, The Summer That Melted Everything, by Tiffany McDaniel. I read it during the heatwave last summer and could not put it down. I even got my doesn’t-read-for-fun daughter to read it and she finished it in record time. It is beautiful and dark and grapples with issues of race and faith, among many others and at times reads beautifully poetically. I hope you will consider what I feel is a thought-provoking read. --Submitted by a current parent


I’d like to suggest Less by Andrew Sean Greer for the All-School Read. As well as winning numerous accolades since it was published in 2017, the book is a touching story about making mistakes, learning, dealing with relationships and learning about yourself. It’s funny and beautiful.

My second suggestion is The Sun Does Shine by Anthony Ray Hinton. This biographical story sheds light on our justice system and how this man faced 30 years on death row with imagination, hope, and strength of character. It is a stunning book. --Submissions by a current parent


Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown
This book is about two girls in the south and how they struggle to express their sexuality because of their strict religion. The main character, Joanna, moves in a smaller town and her father asks her to keep her sexuality a secret for her senior year to appease his new in-laws. She meets a girl at her new church and they fall for each other. They have to figure out how to be themselves in the confines of their small religious community. This book would be a great Holderness All School Read because many students on campus are religious and that can make talking about sexuality difficult. This book will start that conversation. --Submitted by an eleventh grader

All Souls by Michael Patrick MacDonald.  As a side note, All Souls was the only "page turner" that I can recall reading in high school, it is difficult to put down.

The majority of All Souls takes place in the 1970's in an area with one of the highest concentrations of poverty in America at that time--South Boston.  Set against the backdrop of enormous racial tension (Southie in 1975 was the flashpoint of racial struggle in the US), All Souls deals with urban poverty, race, single-parent households, substance abuse and addiction, mental health issues, death, and crime (ranging from petty crime to Whitey Bulger's organized crime syndicate which ran the housing projects MacDonald lived in.)  Many of these topics are themes that we have worked to understand as a school, ranging from our mental health initiatives to learning about the practice of "red-lining."

...people from all walks of life will take away lessons from All Souls.  All Souls is probably best suited to 11th or 12th graders.  I highly recommend All Souls as an engaging read that would give us pause to think about diversity and consider the backgrounds of all members of our community in many contexts. --Submitted by a staff member


List of 3 news stories.

  • Emerald Pool Study

    The Emerald Pool Opens at the Edwards Art Gallery

    Andrew Herring
    Albert Bierstadt, the German-American painter renowned for his landscapes of the American West, came to the White Mountains to capture its simple yet overwhelming beauty. What came to life through nearly a decade’s worth of work was The Emerald Pool, a massive oil-on-canvas monument to the natural majesty of a hidden swimming hole along the Peabody River in the Pinkham Notch.  Recounting The Emerald Pool, Bierstadt said, “I never had so difficult a picture to paint, as this White Mountain subject the Emerald Pool; my artist friends think it my best picture and so do I.” 
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  • Being On Mission: Convocation 2019

    Phil Peck
    At Holderness we deliberately build community through the people we bring in and programs we support. Today I want to share one story about people who showed us what it means to be a mission-centered community and talk about one unique program that is hitting a milestone. 
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  • The Bulls are Back in Town! Holderness School Welcomes New Class of Students

    Andrew Herring
    Kicking off its 141st year, Holderness School welcomed new students to campus on September 5th.  Under blue skies and surrounded by the cheers of joyful Senior Leaders, 114 new students eagerly joined the Holderness School community.  The day was filled with smiles as new students and families unpacked their cars and turned dorm rooms into a home away from home.
    Read More
Holderness School
33 Chapel Lane, Holderness NH, 03245
mail P.O Box 1879 Plymouth, NH 03264-1879
phone (603) 536-1257