Book summaries aren’t only useful for students who haven’t done their homework. Very few of us have read all the literary world’s greatest titles, yet we’re expected to have at least a working knowledge of everything from Macbeth to Ulysses.
You can save yourself the time (and torture!) of reading thick tomes by heading to websites like SparkNotes that offer chapter summaries for books.
But SparkNotes isn’t the only option out there. Here are eight book analysis websites that are reliable SparkNotes and CliffsNotes alternatives.
BookRags is a student-focused book summary website. In addition to the reviews and chapter summaries, it also offers lesson plans for teachers, biographies of more than 1,500 authors, and a “Homework Help” section.
Students can use the Homework Help feature to ask specific questions about books, which other members of the community endeavor to answer.
The book summaries are sub-divided into categories such as Literary Movements, Plays, Non-Fiction, Poetry, and Shakespeare. You’ll even find some movie summaries.
Most of the summaries on BookRags require you to subscribe. A plan costs $20 for a month or $100 for a year. There are a few free summaries that you can access using the link in the left-hand panel.
WikiSummaries is a wiki, meaning anyone can edit content and add new books. Thousands of books summaries are available, all of which are free to access and read.
The downside of the book summaries on WikiSummaries is the depth of the content. The majority of books don’t have more than a few paragraphs dedicated to them. Some are only a few sentences long. Yes, they’ll give you an overview of the plotline if that’s all you want, but for students who are looking for a deeper analysis of the underlying themes, the site will not suffice.
JSTOR is arguably the best alternative to CliffsNotes and SparkNotes. In many ways, it’s better than both.
It’s designed for people who are studying English literature at an advanced level—university and beyond. Indeed, JSTOR is a full-fledged research database.
In addition to basic book and chapter summaries, it also includes book reviews from literary critics and analysts, a text analyzer tool, and copious amounts of data for you to dig into.
JSTOR subscriptions start at $20/month. For the price, you can download 10 PDFs. If you subscribe to the $200 annual plan, you’ll get unlimited downloads. Many colleges and libraries provide free access for their patrons, so be sure to ask before you sign up.
Shmoop is another website like SparkNotes. Its target audience is pre-university level students. If you’re taking your ACTs, SATs, or AP tests, a website like Shmoop is an essential resource.
Although they form the core of the site, the content on Shmoop is much more than book and chapter summaries. You’ll also find study guides for everything from marine biology to oil drilling.
If you use Shmoop, you can be confident the materials you’re accessing will be accurate and well-written. All the summaries are written by people holding a Ph.D. in their respective fields.
Students need to pay $25/month to access the materials. Prices vary for teachers and other users.
Don’t be put off by PinkMonkey’s dated-looking website. The book summary website is one of the best CliffsNotes alternatives. It has summaries for more than 460 of the most commonly studied books in high school.
Sadly, many of the book summaries used to be free, but that’s no longer the case. On the bright side, you can buy the summaries in one-off purchases; you don’t need to sign up for a lengthy plan that you’ll barely use once you’ve finished studying the specific title. Most book summaries are available for between $5 and $10.
If you’re still not content with our list of websites like SparkNotes, check out GradeSaver. The book summaries in its “ClassicNotes” series are all written by Harvard students.
You’ll find book reviews of all titles you’re likely to study in school, including To Kill a Mockingbird, Animal Farm, The Catcher in the Rye, The Great Gatsby, Lord of the Flies, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Best of all, the chapter summaries on GradeSaver are free to read. There are even free quizzes, mock exam titles, and theme guides to help you prepare for a big test.
To access the full guides (with even more information and analysis), you will need to subscribe. A plan costs $20/month or $100/year.
Novelguide is a CliffsNotes and SparkNotes alternative which focuses on free plot summaries. For some books—especially the more well-known ones—you will also find theme analysis, metaphor analysis, quote lists, and author biographies.
Away from the book summaries, Novelguide contains plenty of other information that might be useful to students, including free essays on everything from The Economic Growth of Asia to The Life of George Washington, and Q&A sections for popular books.
We end with LitCharts. The website was made by the same team that’s behind SparkNotes, so you can be confident of a quality experience.
It offers more than 1,100 book summaries and literature guides, as well as poetry guides and a glossary of literary terms. And—uniquely among book summary websites—you can read every Shakespeare play, poem, and sonnet paired with a modern English translation of the text.
A membership on LitCharts costs $10 per month or $60 per year. Members can download all the book summaries and Shakespeare translations in PDF form, access quote explanations, and use the advanced search feature.
Don’t Forget About Newspapers
Finally, don’t forget to consider newspapers when you’re looking for book analysis websites.
Many of the world’s most famous broadsheets have extensive book sections, with full reviews for everything from the old classics to modern bestsellers. Students can often bag themselves a hefty discount; it’s one of the many benefits of having a .EDU email address.
And remember, the web is full of fantastic resources for book lovers. If you want to learn more about what else is on offer, make sure you read our other articles on the best online ebook stores and the best book review sites .