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Reading has countless benefits. Great books can supercharge your verbal skills and vocabulary, enhance your general knowledge, spark curiosity about the world, and even foster empathy. While standardized tests like the SAT and ACT focus on a narrower set of skills than the vast array nurtured by reading, students who read challenging books can see a real boost to their testing skills. With this in mind, here are some of Mindfish’s recommendations for interesting and engaging books that can help students feel more confident and prepared for specific sections on the SAT and ACT.


These titles would be especially helpful for the literature and prose passages on the SAT Reading and ACT Reading sections.

This riveting semi-autobiographical novel-in-stories follows a platoon of soldiers during the Vietnam War.

This hugely influential novel uses magical realism to tell the story of a family through seven generations.

This novel follows a missionary family with four daughters who moves to a village in the Congo during the 1960s.

This gorgeously-written book explores a family torn apart by a child’s false accusation during World War II.

Satrapi’s thoughtful and inventive graphic novel, a memoir about her experiences growing up in revolutionary Iran, is a great choice for students who struggle to get engaged in long books.

Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel follows two boys at a reform school in Florida during the Jim Crow era.

Historical Novels

These books from the 1800s and early 1900s feature language that would help students with the historical passages on the SAT Reading section.

Written in 1813, Pride and Prejudice is still enjoyed today for its wit, humor, charm, and one of the most beloved heroines in English literature.

This 1847 novel features an intense and independent protagonist, a moody atmosphere, and an impossible romance with a dark secret.

Published in 1895, Crane’s novel tells the story of a Union solider during the American Civil War using a naturalistic style.

Originally serialized in 1901 and 1902, this mystery novel is one of Sherlock Holmes’s most famous cases, centering on reports of a ghostly “demon hound” haunting a family’s country estate.

London’s famous adventure novel, published in 1903, tells the story of a dog taken from his California home who must adapt to the harsh life of a sled dog in the 1890s Gold Rush in the Klondike.

Inspired by the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad and the Suez Canal, Verne’s 1872 adventure novel begins with a gentleman’s wager and leads to a grand feat of circumnavigation.

Wilde’s only novel was considered scandalous when first published in 1890 for the protagonist’s hedonism and narcissism. The book’s supernatural portrait is still a relevant cultural symbol of the dangers of being image-obsessed.

Contemporary History Books

These books explore fascinating historical topics and are similar to what students might read for the social science passages on the SAT Reading and ACT Reading sections.

This book describes recent discoveries about a number of pre-Columbian societies and cultures, which were far more densely populated and technologically advanced than previously understood.

In 1820, the crew of the Essex attempts to survive after their ship is attacked by a sperm whale and sinks into the Pacific Ocean.

This narrative explores the people and the battles that defined the struggle over the American West, a collision between Navajo warriors, Mexican settlers, and the American “Army of the West.”

This accessible history of Rome focuses on the expansion of Roman power and includes details about the lives of “regular people” and those in the provinces as well as the rulers and politicians who shaped the empire.

Science Fiction

Students who prefer reading fiction but want to improve their science literacy may enjoy these science fiction titles, which incorporate scientific terms and concepts into compelling narratives.

Atwood tells the story of the complicated friendship between two young men in a world shaped by advances in technology and genetic engineering.

Ishiguro’s eerie, award-winning novel is a coming-of-age story set in a dystopian future England.

Published in 1955, this sci-fi novel imagines a society living in the wake of a nuclear “Tribulation” and trying to make sense of the mutations and radiation sickness whose effects linger on.

This entertaining fictional history of a zombie pandemic benefits from the attention paid to global politics and epidemiology.

We’ve all seen the movie, and the book is more of a thriller than science fiction, but students looking for a suspenseful and action-packed story will also learn about DNA and chaos theory.

Science Non-Fiction

For students who would like to improve their reading skills for the ACT Science section and for the natural science passages on the SAT Reading section, these titles explore fascinating scientific topics.

Carreyou’s journalism exposed the fraud underpinning Theranos, and his book is an engrossing story of ambition, money, lofty scientific aspirations, and a company gripped by a cult of personality.

This book, written by a surgeon, includes amazing case studies and thoughtful mediations on the powers and limits of modern medicine.

This “science biography” tells the story of the woman whose cells, without her knowledge, enabled some of the most valuable scientific breakthroughs of the twentieth century. It also examines the troubling history of racial exploitation and human experimentation in medicine and poses important bioethical questions about the ownership of genetic material.

Mukherjee interweaves the scientific breakthroughs that led to the mapping of the human genome with the narrative of his own family’s history to tell a complex story about genes and heredity.

Sports Non-Fiction

Students who love sports can also increase their familiarity with history, social sciences, and even statistics with the following titles.

This memoir by a journalist and lifelong baseball fan recounts a childhood spent in Brooklyn near Ebbets Field and follows the history of Dodgers to their World Series Victory in 1955.

This fascinating history of two influential sports figures is also the story of how baseball became “the national pastime” and a window into American popular culture in the first decades of the 1900s.

Heinz was one of the most influential and stylistically gifted sports journalists of the twentieth century, and this selection of his best profiles and columns includes pieces on Rocky Graziano, Babe Ruth, and Joe Louis.

For sports fans as well as anyone interested in statistics and quantitative modeling, this book uses a story about the Oakland As to recount larger ideas about behavioral economics and human nature.

Written by a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, this meticulously researched history of the superstar’s career sheds light on an unmatched competitive spirit and the evolution of the NBA.

This fascinating story of a season with Permian High School Panthers football team is also an ethnography of small-town Texas in the 1980s.