Everyone’s going back to school this month, so we figured we would too, with these books set in boarding schools and residential colleges.
I’m not sure what it is about boarding school stories, but they seem to really resonate with American readers, despite most Americans never having attended one. Perhaps that fact is the very thing that makes them so exotic and appealing.
I certainly am not immune! I strongly suspect that I would not have liked boarding school, but that didn’t stop me from working my way through and enjoying many a tale of rich people–or not-so rich people with a scholarship–having awkward adolescent experiences far from home.
“Campus confidential” is the oddly specific genre we are going for so be forewarned!
Thanks to Mary-Esther for helping me research this post!
If you enjoy suspense:
Ruth Ware’s The Lying Game (2017)
Isa and her friends indulged in a game of their own invention during their boarding school years. They called it “the lying game” and had great fun at their classmates’ and teachers’ expenses. But then someone ended up dead, and they were all expelled. Seventeen years later, their secrets are all being dredged up again.
Recommended for those who enjoy Ruth Rendell and Tana French.
If you like YA:
Kirsty McKay’s The Assassin Game (2016)
As with The Lying Game, the premise of this novel is a creepy boarding school game going wrong. Why is this a recurring plot? Do people play creepy dangerous games in boarding schools? I don’t know, but fiction has led me to believe that may be the case!
This time, boarding school student Cate is delighted to be inducted into her school’s secret society. They have a yearly “Killing Game” involving harmless pranks, but this year the pranks aren’t so harmless. Complications ensue.
Recommended for those who enjoy suspense thrillers with a YA twist.
Jennifer E. Smith’s Hello, Goodbye, and Everything in Between (2015)
If you prefer less murder or fewer boarding schools in your reading, try this sweet romance/coming-of-age story from Jennifer E. Smith. This time around, the main characters–high school sweethearts Aidan and Clare–are recent graduates getting ready to depart for college. The two spend the night before leaving revisiting their relationship as they decide whether to stay together in a long-distance relationship or break up.
Recommended for those who enjoyed The Last Boy and Girl in the World.
If you like psychological fiction:
Curtis Sittenfield’s Prep (2005)
Curtis Sittenfeld draws on her own adolescent experiences as a Midwesterner at an elite Eastern boarding school for her debut novel. A scholarship student, Lee feels vastly out-of-place at her boarding school. She spends a lot of time on the outskirts of the school’s social hierarchy, watching the others. She eventually carves out a place for herself, though that’s quickly jeopardized in her senior year. Though the book itself has been described as an emotionally difficult read with a leisurely pace, Sittenfeld also received a lot of praise for her raw honesty and insightful observations.
Recommended for those who enjoy Kaye Gibbons.
If you like nonfiction:
Lydia Reeder’s Dust Bowl Girls (2017)
If you prefer your school stories more grounded in history, consider this book about a championship Great Depression-era women’s college basketball. Oklahoma Presbyterian College was a tiny school in southern Oklahoma. Their basketball coach recruited talented rural players from poor homes. They were not on the national radar, but they stormed to the championship that year and repeatedly trounced the previous year’s champions, an amateur team from Dallas led by future Olympian Babe Didrikson.
Recommended for those who enjoy history and sports.
Dava Sobel’s The Glass Universe (2016)
If your interests are more geared toward science than sports, you might enjoy this book about groundbreaking female astronomers at Harvard in the early 1900s. Didn’t know about these women? I’d never heard of them myself until I read about this book. They were hired by the college’s observatory to examine photographic plates and make calculations. The pay was low, but they willingly volunteered because it was one of the few opportunities they would have to work in the sciences. Along the way they identified numerous stars and developed classification systems still used by astronomers today.
Recommended for those who enjoy Simon Winchester or for those who liked Hidden Figures and Rise of the Rocket Girls.
What are some of your favorite books set in schools? What’s your theory of why so many books set in schools involve creepy games? Did you go to a boarding school? Tell us in the comments!