School’s In! 15 Books That Take Place at School

For kids, back-to-school time can signify an exciting, promising and sometimes distressing end to summer holidays. The anticipation of what a new year may bring can be deliciously terrifying, and the electricity that sparks around an inevitable new beginning is always there. For older readers, the back-to-school season can be more about nostalgia—whether endearing and sweet, heart-droppingly painful, or a bit of both.

This list of 15 books represents the very best of honest, authentic writing about the scholastic experience, and of students handling the good, the bad and the ugly at school. A great reminder that, as the school year begins, there is much more than just reading, writing and ’rithmatic going on in the halls of educational institutions.


Cover_The Prime of Miss Jean BrodieThe Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

Bucking convention and helping to shape generations of feminists since 1961.





Cover_Perks of Being A WallflowerThe Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Alienation, desperation, secret crushes, tribes, disaster—all the best things about high school, right?





Cover_The Sense of an EndingThe Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Looking back doesn’t always bring peace, as one man discovers when he tries to unravel a mystery of his high school days and the boy who was their enigmatic leader.




Cover_The Secret HistoryThe Secret History by Donna Tartt

A little macabre, but totally on point when it comes to describing the isolation that can accompany a freshman’s college experience.





Cover_Joe CollegeJoe College by Tom Perrotta

Spring break offers a reprieve from school, girls and pressure—and a chance for Danny to think about it all as he spends his week behind the wheel of his father’s food truck.




virginsuicidesThe Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

A man reminisces about the five beautiful, enchanting, mysterious—and ultimately doomed—Lisbon sisters.





Cover_Never Let Me GoNever Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

A mysterious boarding school asks more of their students than just good grades in this creepy, slick-edged tale.





Cover_The Rules of AttractionThe Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis

Set at the same liberal arts college as The Secret History—seriously, what the hell went on at that place?





Cover_This Side of ParadiseThis Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The story of a Princeton lad trying to win over a girl, famously written by F. Scott for the sole purpose of trying to win over Zelda. The rest is history.




Cover_The Brief And Wondrous Life of Oscar WaoThe Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

Oscar and Yunior make unlikely dorm-mates, but wildly entertaining storytellers.





Cover_Wonder BOysWonder Boys by Michael Chabon

Grady, a failed writer and professor, kind of hates his students, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have a lot to teach each other.





Cover_The Catcher in the RyeThe Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

Holden Caulfield teaches us exactly what to do when you’ve been expelled from prep school.





Cover_PushPush by Sapphire

Precious is an illiterate, abused and pregnant 16-year-old, but all is not lost when a teacher takes her side.





carrie6Carrie by Stephen King

At its heart, a cautionary tale, reminding you of the terrifying things that can happen to high school bullies.





Cover_A Separate PlaceA Separate Peace by John Knowles

What does it mean to be daring, or independent, or even a friend, when time at a boarding school is set against the backdrop of the early days of World War II?




Did I miss anything? What is your favorite book about the school years? Let me know!

    Karen Green

    Karen Green is a freelance writer and big city ex-pat now living in rural Ontario. She writes for numerous print and online publications, and considers her library card to be one of her most valuable possessions.

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