8 Thought-Provoking Books About Adults Going Back To School

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It’s never too late to learn a new lesson in life. From going to traditional school, college, cooking school, university, or any other place where you are educated on something new, there are books that explore the topic and help you navigate the transition.

I was 22 when I decided to pursue my MS in Mass Communications and Journalism. I remember living in apartments surrounded by students of all ages, some even undergraduate students, and all the lessons I learned throughout that experience. Going back to learn new lessons is such a valuable aspect of life, and one that I believe people should do at least once after leaving high school or college, wherever they decide to go to experience it.

Below, I’ve picked eight books that explore the ups and downs of going back to school and learning new things in a new environment as an adult. One book explores a toxic mentor and mentee relationship and its consequences, another a chilling high school reunion, another teachers changing the world of NASA — so there’s something for every taste.

I hope you enjoy these and that they inspire you to learn new lessons, as well as teach you something new about the realities of different types of academia and the world of learning, in the classroom and beyond.

cover of The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

Who doesn’t love a story about going back to cooking school? This heartwarming book follows follows eight students that get together for cooking lessons at Lillian’s Restaurant every Monday night.

The group of students include Claire, a young mother struggling with family demands and issues; Antonia, an Italian kitchen designer who just moved to America; and Tom, a man mourning losing his wife to breast cancer.

Chef Lillian, besides helping them to create delicious dishes, also looks out for her student’s lives and realizes that they’re there for more than just cooking lessons. They’re looking for new connections, and looking to enrich their lives with these relationships, in a book that teaches us that there’s more to cooking school than just making that perfect dish.

Cover image of Educated by Tara Westover

Educated by Tara Westover

This memoir covers the story of Tara Westover, who was 17 years old the first time she set foot in a classroom.

The reason she went to school then, at a later age, was because her family isolated from mainstream society and there was no one to ensure that children received an education at the time.

The book also explores Tara’s struggles, such as when a brother got violent with her, and then her feelings when another brother got himself into college. Once that happened, Tara decided to try a new kind of life, where knowledge took center stage, leading her to an education in places such as Harvard and to Cambridge University.

This memoir covers themes of perseverance and drive, and is one that has captured many reader hearts.

Image of First Love by Adrienne Sharp

First Love by Adrienne Sharp

Ballet is such a romantic way to express yourself through dance, and this book explores the relationship of a ballerina with the craft, as well as the human connections made in between.

Adam and Sandra are ballet dancers as well as friends since they were 15. Now as adults they are lovers, who could not imagine being without the other.

Sandra is a dancer in the New York City Ballet, and has just caught the powerful George Balanchine’s eye. Adam is a talented rising star who has joined rival company, the American Ballet Theatre.

The book follows their relationship, the rivalries and the ups and downs of their relationship, as these two characters navigate their love and see if it can survive all the ups and downs presented to them. It also explores the realities of going back to ballet school as an adult, and the competitiveness and issues that might arise.

Image of Blue Angel by Francine Prose

Blue Angel by Francine Prose

This novel follows a college professor in a creative writing program who is frustrated by how long it’s taken him to publish a new novel. He feels frustrated and like his talent has gone to waste.

Enter Angela Argo, an edgy girl with a promise for writing, who seems to lift Swenson’s spirits. Their relationship gets closer and closer, and it leads to terrible consequences.

This novel explores what happens when a young adult mentee and adult mentor collide in dangerous ways, and what consequences it might bring on and off campus, leading us to better understand toxic relationships.

Image of The Reunion by Guillaume Musso

The Reunion by Guillaume Musso

This thriller follows former friends Manon, Thomas, and Maxime, who have not spoken since graduation.

It turns out that 25 years earlier, under terrible circumstances, the three of them were involved in a murder. The body was buried in the gym wall. Turns out, this is the same building and same wall that is about to be demolished to make space for a modern new building.

This chilling book then takes an interesting turn when the students are reunited at their high school reunion. Will past secrets resurface, or will their past truly haunt them forever? You’ll have to read this psychological tale to find out what happens.

Image of Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

This inspiring book was turned into an acclaimed film, and still remains a favorite.

The book follows the story of some extremely driven African American women who played a huge role in NASA’s space program. Formerly mathematicians and teachers of math in the south’s segregated public schools, they had a chance to live their dreams during the labor shortage of World War II. Thanks to this, they moved to Hampton, Virginia, to work in the fast-paced Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory.

This novel will lead you to feeling so many amazing emotions, from frustration, to anger, to happiness, and is definitely a must read for those who love stories about drive. While the film did it justice, nothing compares to the amazing novel that inspired the Hollywood blockbuster.

Image of The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

While this is a fantasy, it has some deeply embedded lessons that any adult can relate to about finding themselves in a new learning environment.

The book follows Rin, who aces the Keju, an Empire-wide test meant to weed out talented youth to go learn at the Academies. Turns out Rin shocked everyone with her talent, and the test creators and officials could not believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating. Getting out of a life of being a servant, she gets into the high-end school, Sinegard in Nikan, where she faces a series of challenges for being a dark-skinned and low income girl from the south.

The story unravels as she is targeted and bullied by other school pupils. Then Rin discovers she has an amazingly rare power and is embedded in the art of shamanism. She begins accepting her fate with the help of some out there teachers, and realizes that there could be more than just surviving school when it comes to her fate and her powers.

Image of In The Country We Love by Diane Guerrero

In the Country We Love by Diane Guerrero

This touching memoir, follows the actress of series such as Orange is the New Black and Jane the Virgin, as she explores her education in America as a young adult and adult.

Diane was just 14 years old when her parents were detained and deported. She remembers being at school at the time. Being born in the U.S., Guerrero was able to remain in the country and continue her education throughout her life. The memoir follows how she persevered and depended on the help and kindness of family friends who helped her follow her dreams, from building an educated life to becoming an actress.

Full of uplifting topics and featuring the realistic struggles that Diane encountered, it’s a touching story told through her lens.