Back to School

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Back to School

Novels on campus for adults

As the days of summer wane and we transition to fall, some of us still feel that instinctual pull to go shopping for office supplies, pack lunch in an insulated box, and toss a backpack on our shoulders to head back to school. The campus can be a great setting for a novel with built-in conflicts of making the right grades, interpersonal relationships among students, and so much more. Whether dark academia is your cup of tea or you’re looking for something less sinister, this list of academic novels will take you back to school anytime of year.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt
It’s impossible not to include The Secret History on a list of novels about academia. Tartt introduces readers to Richard who, drawn to his unusual classmates, ends up at the center of a a tragedy -- or is it? -- after the death of one of their own. Dreamy, dark, and delicious, The Secret History is often considered the inception of the dark academia genre. Also available as an ebook and an eaudiobook.

If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio
Heavily inspired by The Secret History, If We Were Villains is Rio’s debut. Years after the death of a peer at the Dellecher Classical Conservatory, Oliver relives the events surrounding the gruesome murder for the peace of mind of the detective who put Oliver in prison. Full of Shakespearean allusions and expert crafting, If We Were Villains draws sharp characters with sharper knives. Also available as an ebook.

Bunny by Mona Awad
A surreal, strange, and absurd take on higher education, Bunny is a twisted sort of fairy tale. In the second year of her MFA program, Samantha is finally invited to her classmates’ regular “Smut Salon,” but the goings-on may be more sinister than she could have ever imagined. Imaginative, disturbing, and powerful, Bunny will stay with you long after the last bite. Also available as an audiobook and an ebook.

Roses and Rot by Kat Howard
Drawing from traditional Scottish folklore, Roses and Rot reimagines “Tam Lin” at an elite New England artists’ retreat. When twins Imogen and Marin begin their work and studies, they see it as a way to escape the cruelty of their mother -- but how much are they really willing to give in pursuit of artistic success? Rich and haunting, Roses and Rot ties academia, fairy tales, and darkness together in a unique setting.

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
Breaking from her well-loved young adult fantasy works (Shadow and Bone and Six of Crows), Leigh Bardugo delivers this twisted story of life at Yale, Ninth House. Out of chances, Alex has only one thing left to save her: the careful surveillance of the school’s secret societies. But the occurrences within them may rival even her darkest days before Yale. Compelling and chilling, Ninth House begins the Alex Stern series. Also available as an audiobook, an ebook, an eaudiobook, and in large print.

Catherine House by Elisabeth Thomas
A debut, Catherine House takes campus living to the extreme. Committed to spending three years isolated from the larger world at the House, Ines expects a life tamer than the one she knows, but in a place where unchecked exploration is strongly encouraged, tragedy is destiny. Full of secrecy and mystery, Catherine House asks big questions in a small world. Also available as an audiobook, an ebook, an eaudiobook, and in large print.

Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan
Taking place at the famed Smith College, Commencement highlights relationships among women in undergrad and beyond. When an unlikely group of four students become friends thanks to circumstance, they could never begin to imagine the impact they would have on each other in school and after commencement. Candid and thoughtful, Commencement offers humor alongside seriousness in a true-to-life portrait of the privileged American woman.

Gossip of the Starlings by Nina de Gramont
Based on a true boarding school scandal of the 1980s, Gossip of the Starlings borrows from Shel Silverstein for its title. At the Esther Percy School for Girls, Catherine is expected to change her ways, but after meeting senator’s daughter Skye, she’s on an inevitable course that ends in catastrophe -- no matter how hard she resists. With stunning prose and a gripping story, Gossip of the Starlings is impossible to put down.

Old School by Tobias Wolff
Perfect for fans of Dead Poets Society, Old School invites readers into an elite prep school in the 1960s. Less privileged than his peers, the anonymous narrator draws readers through his mistakes at the school while observing the problems with the academic environment and pursuing a name for himself as a writer. Enchanting and beautifully written, Old School is a master coming of age novel.

All Girls by Emily Layden
Set at an exclusive New England prep school, All Girls marks Layden’s debut. Scandal rocks this all girls school as the students reckon with what is promised to them and what they can’t have. In a carousel of perspectives, All Girls sketches a neat portrait of the young women at the school and beyond. Also available as an ebook.