Novels That Take Us Back to School

That time of year has arrived: Back to school! Gym uniforms, freshly-sharpened colored pencils, overpriced textbooks. Algebra homework and PhD dissertations. That touch of excitement to see familiar faces after summer break, mixed with a healthy amount of resignation.

(Non-Required) Reading

For students, that means much assigned reading. But for the rest of us, we can prepare for the season and indulge in a vicarious school experience on the page.

Reading Group Choices presents a list of fiction, both adult and young adult, with a connection to school. These titles range in subject matter from elementary to university (with some witchcraft thrown in for good measure). Browse our picks and get in a scholarly mood!


Wonder by R.J. PalacioOne of our recommended books is Wonder by RJ Palacio

August Pullman was born with a facial deformity that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. Wonder begins from Auggie’s point of view, but soon switches to include his classmates, his sister, her boyfriend, and others. These perspectives converge in a portrait of one community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance. In a world where bullying among young people is an epidemic, this is a refreshing new narrative full of heart and hope.


One of our recommended books is On Beauty by Zadie SmithOn Beauty by Zadie Smith

The Belseys are based at a fictional college called Wellington, where earthy African American Kiki, abstract—and English—Howard, and their three searching children seem the picture of modern liberal success. Yet in spite of their outward harmony and privilege, a series of unexpected disruptions upset the Belsey’s idyllic life. On Beauty is a hilarious, scathing, and emotionally profound novel of human aspiration and failure, an unfailingly perceptive portrait of a struggling marriage, and an empathetic depiction of adolescent struggle. It is also an outsider’s witty look at American cultural life floundering under the weight of political and cultural divisions.


One of our recommended books is Discovery of Witches by Deborah HarknessA Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

In this tale of passion and obsession, Diana Bishop, a young scholar and the descendant of witches, discovers a long-lost and enchanted alchemical manuscript deep in Oxford’s Bodleian Library. Its reappearance summons a fantastical underworld, which she navigates with her leading man, vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont. Harkness has created a universe to rival those of Anne Rice, Diana Gabaldon, and Elizabeth Kostova, and she adds a scholar’s depth to this riveting story of magic and suspense. And the story continues in Book Two, Shadow of Night.


One of our recommended books for 2019 is Dear Evan Hansen by Val EmmichDear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich, Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek & Justin Paul

When a letter that was never meant to be seen by anyone draws high school senior Evan Hansen into a family’s grief over the loss of their son, he is given the chance of a lifetime: to belong. He just has to stick to a lie he never meant to tell, that the notoriously troubled Connor Murphy was his secret best friend. Suddenly, Evan isn’t invisible anymore–even to the girl of his dreams. And Connor Murphy’s parents, with their beautiful home on the other side of town, have taken him in like he was their own. As Evan gets pulled deeper into their swirl of anger, regret, and confusion, he knows that what he’s doing can’t be right, but if he’s helping people, how wrong can it be?


One of our recommended books is The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey EugenidesMarriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

It’s the early 1980s. In American colleges, the wised-up kids are inhaling Derrida and listening to Talking Heads. But Madeleine Hanna, dutiful English major, is writing her senior thesis on Jane Austen and George Eliot, purveyors of the marriage plot that lies at the heart of the greatest English novels. As Madeleine studies the age-old motivations of the human heart, real life, in the form of two very different guys, intervenes—the charismatic and intense Leonard Bankhead, and her old friend the mystically inclined Mitchell Grammaticus. As all three of them face life in the real world they will have to reevaluate everything they have learned.


One of our recommended books is Indecent by Corinne SullivanIndecent by Corinne Sullivan

Shy, introverted Imogene Abney has always been fascinated by the elite world of prep schools. So, shortly after her college graduation, when she’s offered a teaching position at the Vandenberg School for Boys, an all-boys prep school in Westchester, New York, she immediately accepts, despite having little teaching experience—and very little experience with boys. When Imogene meets handsome, popular Adam Kipling, a student who exudes charm and status and ease, she’s immediately drawn to him. As an obsessive, illicit affair begins between them, Imogene is so lost in the haze of first love that she’s unable to recognize the danger she’s in. The danger of being caught doing something possibly illegal and so indecent.


One of our recommended books for 2019 is Trust Exercise by Susan ChoiTrust Exercise by Susan Choi

In the early 1980s, students at a highly competitive performing arts high school struggle and thrive in a rarified bubble, ambitiously pursuing their acting. When two freshmen, David and Sarah, fall headlong into love, their passion does not go unnoticed—or untoyed with—by anyone, especially not by their charismatic teacher, Mr. Kingsley. The outside world fails to penetrate this school’s walls—until it does, in a shocking spiral of events that flips the premise upside-down. What the reader believes to have happened to David and Sarah and their friends is not entirely true—though it’s not false, either. It takes until the book’s stunning coda for the final piece of the puzzle to fall into place—revealing truths that will resonate long after the final sentence.


One of our recommended books for 2019 is Normal People by Sally RooneyNormal People by Sally Rooney

At school Connell and Marianne pretend not to know each other. He’s popular and well-adjusted, star of the school football team, while she is lonely, proud, and intensely private. But a strange and indelible connection grows between the two teenagers—one they are determined to conceal. A year later, they’re both studying at Trinity College in Dublin. Marianne has found her feet in a new social world while Connell hangs at the sidelines. Throughout their years at university, Marianne and Connell circle one another, straying toward other people and possibilities but always magnetically, irresistibly drawn back together. And as she veers into self-destruction and he begins to search for meaning elsewhere, each must confront how far they are willing to go to save the other.


Looking for more themed book lists? We’ve got plenty, including You’ve Got Mail: Books Featuring Letters and Crimes of the “Art”. Check out the full list on our blog!