It’s getting to be that time of year; the temperatures are falling, the edges of the leaves are crisping, football is revving up, baseball is winding down, and many of us are getting used to new teachers and new classes.
To help take the sting out of the end of summer (goodbye till next year, reading on the beach with an iced tea…), I like to throw myself into celebrating the beginning of fall (hello again, curling up in an armchair with a hot chocolate while the rain falls outside!). For me, this means: new notebooks, adding apples to pretty much every meal, and diving into books that highlight all the little rituals of the school year. The following are some of my favorite titles with strong school settings, to help us all get excited for the new semester (even if we can’t actually enroll at Hogwarts, which would, let’s be honest, be the ultimate in back-to-school excitement).
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
Frankie is really smart (and unaccustomed to hiding her smarts in front of guys, even though sometimes they seem more comfortable if she does), dislikes accepting the status quo, is impatient with her dad’s secretive pride about his own halcyon days at her boarding school, and is (maybe) on the path to becoming a criminal mastermind- an idea she finds morally…ambiguous. A 2009 Printz Honor Book, Teens Top Ten pick, and National Book Award finalist, plus a 2013 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults title, this is one of those books I’m always bothering everyone I know to read.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Speculative fiction disguised as a coming-of-age story, Never Let Me Go was an Alex Award winner in 2006, and has quickly become a modern classic. Following a trio of students through their years at a seemingly traditional boarding school, Never Let Me Go is about the complex hierarchies and subtle competitions between friends, but it’s also about how to get the truth from adults, and how to live with truths that are shockingly, fundamentally painful to process.
Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
An adult-market book featuring one of my favorite YA protagonists ever, this is the sometimes uncomfortable, always emotionally compelling story of one girl’s journey through all four years of high school at a prestigious boarding school in Massachusetts. Lee Fiora is insecure, lonely, and comes from entirely different economic and social circumstances than most of her classmates. If you hate books where the protagonist makes bad choices and struggles to be likable, skip ahead in the list; Lee does both! But if you love a little angst, and have always felt like books about high school just don’t capture the grim social realities, this is a book for you.
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
The third book in Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle, Blue Lily, Lily Blue, comes out in October (yay! My copy is, ahem, already pre-ordered), and it is my most-eagerly-anticipated fall YA release. The series revolves around Blue Sargent, and the quartet of guys she meets who attend the local all-boys prep school, Aglionby. Elements of fantasy, mystery, drama, and romance combine with deliciously rich character development to create a world so enticing, I included it in this â€œschool storiesâ€ list even though time spent at Aglionby is negligible for some of the boys (when was the last time Ronan showed up for class, really?). Still, the presence of the academy looms large in the series, and it’s a place of rich heritage, mostly rich students, and slowly unfolding mysteries deeply rooted in the small town where the the Raven Boys, as Aglionby students are called, sometimes collide with the rest of the community. As LeVar Burton says though, you don’t have to take my word for it; The Raven Boys was a 2013 Teens Top Ten pick, which means the teens of the internet think it’s completely awesome too, and there’s still time to get caught up before the third volume comes out next month.
Bad Machinery Volume 1: The Case of the Team Spirit by John Allison
Time for a format shift: a hilarious webcomic (now also released in print by “case”) about a crew of friends, frenemies, cousins, and erstwhile teachers This was excellently highlighted by fellow Hub blogger and John Allison fan Traci Glass back in February. I included it here because I absolutely love the way all the amateur detectives still have to try to pass all their classes in the midst of a lot of paranormal sleuthing. Hijinks obviously ensue. The Case of the Team Spirit was on the Great Graphic Novels 2014 list, and the webcomic is organized by cases here.
Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
Winner of a 2011 Alex Award, Girl in Translation is the story of Kimberly Chang, recently emigrated from Hong Kong with her mother and attempting to cram two full-time schedules into every day, attending a prestigious prep school during the day, working sweatshop shifts at night (while also finishing all her homework), and living in squalor in an unsafe, unregulated apartment. Kimberly is a studious, talented student, but she’s also trying to fit in with her classmates while helping her mother scrape by.
These are just a handful of fairly recent books set in and around schools to help ring in the new term; there are so many more good ones out there. I’d love to hear your favorites in the comments!
-Carly Pansulla, currently reading The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness