Crisp weather, the smell of freshly sharpened pencils, football… It’s that time of year when Trapper Keepers are cracked open and kids head back to the classroom. If you’re nostalgic for a good school setting, skip enrollment and pick up one of these grade-A novels, all of which take place in the halls of academia. And the best part? No book reports required.
‘The Secret History’
By Donna Tartt
Tartt created a literary splash with her thrilling first novel about an academically elite group of classics students at an East Coast liberal arts college seeking to invoke ancient rites. From page one, you know a murder is afoot, but the why and the how and the WTF come later. A novel, elegant take on a classic thriller.
By Tom Perrotta
Perrotta ("Little Children") plumbs the darker side of high school in this satirical novel. Machiavelli’s got nothing on Tracy Flick, an ambitious and scheming teen committed to winning the election for student body president. The only thing standing in her way is a popular jock and initially beloved teacher Mr. M, who becomes just as committed to thwarting Tracy’s political aspirations. Is he up to the challenge?
By Rebecca Stott
(Spiegel & Grau)
Cambridge, a mysterious death, Isaac Newton, alchemy, a ghost or two—what’s not to like? An academic’s pursuit of a centuries-old mystery is at the heart of Stott’s debut novel. When Cambridge scholar Elizabeth Vogelsang is found drowned, another academic goes about trying to finish her revelatory biography of Isaac Newton, and in the process, finds links between a series of 17th century murders and a rash of current-day killings. Set against a backdrop of Cambridge that hasn’t changed all that much in 400 years, "Ghostwalk" will make you want to stroll the streets of a college town…in the daytime.
‘The Rule of Four’
By Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason
For a thriller that’s closer to home, check out this Princeton-based novel by childhood friends Caldwell and Thomason. Four roommates, all set to graduate, get sucked into trying to solve a puzzling Renaissance text, all the while dodging other academics eager to get their ambitious hands on the solution. If reading about Princeton eating clubs, puzzles, traveling via underground steam tunnel, romance, friendship, and oh yeah, murder, is your thing, "The Rule of Four" will be up your Ivy League alley.
‘A Separate Peace’
By John Knowles
Knowles’ wistful tale centers on the friendship between studious, awkward Gene and daredevil Finny, roommates, besties, and sometimes frenemies at a Phillips Exeter Academy-like prep school. Adult Gene returns to the school to visit a tree and marble staircase that were both pivotal locations to Gene and Finny’s friendship and life. The story unfolds from there, and you discover how a small impulsive action can result in tragic consequences.
By Curtis Sittenfeld
Crack up this book and get drawn into the world of Lee Flora, an Indiana teen on scholarship at a tony East Coast prep school. All the stereotypes are here—the popular girl, the dreamy jock, the angsty gay student—but it’s Lee’s voice as a brainy but awkward teen that rings true in this coming-of-age novel.
Jennifer Worick is the author of more than 25 books and a publishing consultant; she can be found at The Business of Books.