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School’s In! A Breakdown of School Stories

As teachers and librarians across the country wrap up their Summer Reading programs, it’s impossible to ignore what lurks ahead: school! While the little guys will be after first-day-of-school and riding-the-bus stories, older readers know very well that school becomes a universal backdrop — if not the main setting — of everyday teen life. School stories are also great for fleshing out your fall booktalks, which is what got me pondering subsets of the traditional school story genre. Here’s what I have so far:

Boarding School: Parents left behind + society of peers + exclusive environment = ideal teen hero incubator

Private-School Rich Kids: Teens with means are largely unsupervised. Fantasy: for some readers, it’s not supernatural creatures — it’s the life you wish you had.

Urban High School: Realistic, gritty, drama-driven stories predominantly featuring African-American characters.

There’s a Special School for People Like You: For when your skills are too awesome to mix with the normal folks.

Shifting/Exchanging: Sometimes, students find themselves switching to something completely different.

The School of Life: Coming-of-age outside of school

I’m sure there are tons of titles and categories I’ve forgotten. Feel free to continue in the comments, and happy back-to-school season!

–Becky O’Neil, currently reading Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card



  1. aime’ scarbrough, currently reading “Gone” by Michael Grant

  2. I was just thinking about using some school stories for fall displays or booktalks! What a great breakdown of this broad sub-category! Thank you!

  3. Marisa Marisa

    Great post! Spud by John van de Ruit is another one to remember for the boarding school category — it’s set in South Africa! Very boy, very hormonal, very gross.

  4. Maria Kramer Maria Kramer

    Cool suggestions! I would also highly recommend the manga series “Train + Train” by Hideyuki Kurata. This six-volume series takes place in a futuristic setting where exclusive schools are held aboard gigantic trains criss-crossing the planet’s surface. Reiichi intends to embark on the usual School Train, but ends up handcuffed to Arena, a teenage runaway bound for the Special Train, where above-average students learn unconventional lessons. Abord the special train Reiichi completes strange tasks — one assignment: students are sent into a rough and tumble gambling den with an amount of money and instructed to double it by whatever means necessary — meets interesting people, gets involved in Arena’s family issues and learns that he has more guts than he ever realized. I love this series! It’s a lot of fun, and an unconventional take on the “Boarding School” genre.

  5. Oooh, thanks, Maria! My post totally bypassed any manga or comics — now I want to check out Train + Train!

  6. I’m a huge fan of boarding school books. One of my recent favorites has been Anna and the French Kiss-the thrill of independence and boarding school, set in Paris. A great story, to boot.

  7. I also really loved Anna and the French Kiss — an awesome boarding school AND study abroad book. Plus lots of sawoon.

    Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney depicts some of the darker side of boarding schools, but was an excellent read.

  8. “Sawoon” — LOL! This is the 3rd or 4th time I’ve had Anna and the French Kiss recommended to me recently — think I’ll have to move it to the top of my list!

  9. DeAnne DeAnne

    For Boarding Schools, also try The Revenant by Sonia Gensler. It’s a historical set in a Cherokee school in Oklahoma with lots of boarding school goodness, complicated by the fact that the main character, although younger than many of the students, is a teacher (impersonating someone else). It also has a gothic/ghostly element, and some romance!

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