I haven’t seen the inside of a classroom since I graduated from college six years ago, but the end of August still makes me want to buy highlighters and three-ring binders (I was One Of Those Kids who loved school). To scratch that back-to-school itch, I’ve compiled a list of school-ish novels.
1. The Secret History by Donna Tartt-This is a tale about a group of five Greek students at a small New England college in an unidentified year (their clothes, choice of drink, and language will leave you wondering if it’s 1935, 1965, or 2005). The newest member of the group discovers something sinister about the others on page one, and you spend the rest of the novel immersed in a bizarre level of bookish, mythological suspense. You’ll never look at a coed in wire-rimmed glasses the same way again.
2. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett- A beloved children’s book about Sara Crewe, a young girl attending a boarding school when her father dies. She’s left with nothing and the school mistress puts her to work to pay her board, during which time Sara learns what it means to not be an awful human being. It’s saccharine-sweet and totally moralizing and I love it.
3. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro- A boarding school book with a disturbing, dystopian twist. Ishiguro is Better Than Everyone Else at writing quietly heartbreaking books, and this is no exception. Perfect for you if the thought of going back to school makes you very, very sad.
4. Villette by Charlotte Bronte- A (possibly, maybe) semi-autobiographical account of an unhappy English woman who takes up a teaching position in a French boarding school, where she develops a complex relationship with the schoolmaster. Various romantic shenanigans ensue, but they are Very Serious because this is a Bronte. Make sure your edition has the French conversations translated because a ridiculous amount of this book is in French.
5. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark- Jean Brodie is a vaguely progressive schoolteacher with a group of student followers known as her “set.” Miss Brodie seeks to mold her chosen students in a way that places her outside morality, and one of the students eventually betrays her. Affairs! Gossip! Slander! Fascism! This short little book has it all.
6. Sabriel by Garth Nix- The first in the Abhorsen trilogy (my favorite YA of all time), and an excellent alternative for those who want some magic with their boarding school without having to re-read Harry Potter. Sabriel’s father is the Abhorsen, the one who uses magic to return dead spirits to their proper place when they’ve risen again (or been forced to rise by Very Bad People). In her last semester at boarding school in a magic-free part of the country, Sabriel’s father goes missing. Sabriel must travel to the Old Kingdom to find him without, you know, dying. She is accompanied by a magical cat who is actually an ancient spirit-thing. You need no further prodding, I know.
What about you, readers? Have any favorite books that get you in the mood for school time?