No offense to high school English teachers everywhere. I know you're awesome. You deserve applause (unless you're my daughter's teacher from last year - you need to choose another profession).
My daughter is not taking AP English this year, but she is taking AP US History and AP Government. For just one of those classes, she has to complete two packets of questions. Why two? Presumably because there were too many pages for one staple. She also has to read four chapters from a college textbook and four chapters from an exam guide and answer those questions.
I think it's a lot of work. But she loves it, and she's pretty much done and is ready to start the work for her government class. Since she hasn't been exposed to politics at all until now, I recommended watching CNN or MSNBC immediately followed by The Colbert Report and The Daily Show. Now she thinks politics is funny.
The summer reading for AP English (or maybe English 11) is Slaughterhouse Five (great choice) and Crime and Punishment (not a great choice in my opinion). I'm a huge fan of Russian literature. Anna Karenina is one of my all-time favorite novels. I think Dostoevsky is a little heavy for the summer, especially for the 17 year old crowd.
If I were a high school English teacher, I would hand out a collection of high quality short stories and let the kids choose twelve, one a week, and have them write an essay or two on any theme that they find in three or more of the stories. Or I would give them a list of novels that could be on the AP exam and let them choose. Crazy concept, huh?
I would critique their essay and give them a list of things to work on (not a grade necessarily) so they know the specifics of how their writing needs to improve. And I wouldn't make them wait until the first day of school for the stress of the critique and finding out whether their writing is good enough. I'd let them email the essay whenever they get done. And I'd give them the opportunity to revise it. Not for a grade necessarily. Isn't the goal to learn how to write awesome critical essays? I say once you write 5 or 6 amazing essays, you've got your A and the freedom to read whatever you choose on the AP reading list.
My daughter is not taking AP English and has sort of come to hate English despite her love of literature for this reason - lack of choice and the thing where it's all about the grade.