School looks different for everyone this year and it’s making me feel wistful about my own school days gone by. I can’t help but think about the many books set at school, including one educational experience I never had: boarding school.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad school is long behind me. But there’s something about this time of year that makes me want to revisit those years through fictional characters, even as my own kids are doing their homework.
When a reader asked for books set at boarding schools on our What Should I Read Next Instagram account as a WSIRNReaderRecs request, we received a ton of great suggestions. We curated those suggestions for today’s book list, and added a stack of our in-house favorites, too. As so often happens when we ask our community for book recommendations, my TBR grew as a result.
Today I’m sharing books you love, books I love, and some I’m eager to read because of your enthusiastic recommendations. This list of 25 boarding school books covers a variety of genres from YA to thriller to literary fiction. And they’re not all set at swanky East Coast or magical schools! This is by no means an exhaustive list so I’d love to hear about your favorite books set at boarding schools in the comments.
French explores trust, friendship, and class warfare in the fifth installment in her Dublin Murder Squad series. It’s set at a girls’ boarding school, where a boy had been found murdered a year ago. The case had gone cold, but when a new clue emerges, two detectives are sent in to investigate. (Warning: f-bombs galore, like all French’s books.) More info →
Irving is a masterful storyteller, and has a knack for drawing compelling characters. We see Johnny and his unusual best friend Owen grow up and attend the prep school where Johnny’s stepfather teaches, before Owen heads off to ROTC as the Vietnam War escalates. This modern classic gently addresses heavy themes of fate, loss, and faith and it’s no wonder so many claim it as their favorite novel. More info →
This is such a fun YA spin on the classic Sherlock Holmes stories. Jamie Watson transfers to Sherringford, a fancy Connecticut prep school, on a rugby scholarship where he meets the eccentric Charlotte Holmes. Charlotte seems to have inherited her great-great-great grandfather's keen eye and unpredictable temperament, and Jamie decides to avoid her. However, when they're suspected of murdering a fellow classmate, Jamie and Charlotte must team up, much like their ancestors, and solve the case to clear their names. Clever and witty, you'll want to keep reading this series. More info →
Set at a boys' boarding school during the early years of WWI, this classic portrays the dark side of adolescence, showing two young friends waking up to the jaded reality of the adult world as the nation likewise was waking up to the reality of its deeply troubled era. More info →
I talked about my love for this one in Volume III of One Great Book , and it's our October selection for the Modern Mrs Darcy Book Club. Haunting and atmospheric, with a sad truth that dawns on you gradually. Ishiguro slowly introduces the reader to three teens in a 1990s British boarding school. His prose says so much while revealing so little, as it slowly dawns on the reader what is not-quite-right about these children's lives. More info →
In this short Australian classic, a group of girls from the Appleyard College for Young Ladies venture out for a picnic at Hanging Rock on a beautiful afternoon. Three of the girls set out for a hike, and are never seen again. As I was reading this short novel, it strongly reminded me of something I'd read before, but I couldn't figure out WHAT. I finally realized it wasn't a book at all—it was the TV show Lost! (If that's not a recommendation, I don't know what is.) More info →
Children can discover doorways to magical places and then find they no longer fit into society when they return. No one believes where they've been, for one, and they can't figure out a way to go back to the place they considered home. Instead, they go to Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children. Nancy visited the Underworld and her arrival at the Home marks a change. She and her classmates must band together to solve a spate of murders plaguing the school. More info →
Ten years ago, Matthias’s roommate and best friend Fritz ran away from Blackburne School into the woods and was never heard from again. He’s feeling stuck and a job offer from his alma mater to teach English sounds like it might be a chance at a fresh start. Once there, he feels compelled to figure out what really happened to Fritz their senior year. Part literary thriller, part coming-of-age tale, you’ll be fully drawn into the world of elite boarding schools and secrets upon secrets. More info →
This epic fantasy is rooted in 20th Century Chinese history and mythology. It features Rin, an orphaned peasant girl, who, against all odds, earns a place in an elite military academy. At school, Rin discovers that she possesses incredible powers and studies the mythical art of shamanism. As the Nikara Empire teeters on the brink of war, Rin answers the call to save her people. Kuang has spoken about her choice to write fictional accounts of historical events like the Nanjing Massacre with unflinching detail, not to glorify war, but to show the realities of trauma. (Content warnings for sexual violence, atrocious warcrimes, self-harm). More info →
Stevie Bell is ready to attend her first year at Ellingham Academy, an exclusive school in Vermont that’s famous for educating the world’s best and brightest. The founder, Albert Ellingham added riddles and mazes throughout the school to create “a place where learning is a game.” Stevie, a self-proclaimed true crime expert, is more interested in solving the puzzle around Albert Ellingham’s family. After opening the school, his wife and daughter were kidnapped. No one has ever solved the famous crime, but Stevie is determined to crack the case. However, in between studying and making friends, Stevie has noticed strange things happening around the school. This layered mystery is perfect for fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society. More info →
Ellison says she always wanted to write a good campus novel, one that would allow her to draw on her own educational experience at a womens college. Some people attract drama. Or, perhaps more accurately, they create it. That's the guiding belief of the Charlottesville detectives called in to The Goode School, the exclusive all-girls boarding school in the quiet town of Marchburg, Virginia, where senators and ambassadors business moguls send their daughters for their education. But then a series of unexplained deaths rocks their community. And when one particular girl seems to be the epicenter of the chaos and tragedy, well—the detective on the case knows she needs to take a close look. In alternating points of view, we learn that Ash Carlisle has plenty of secrets she'd like to keep. What’s more, we learn that Ash isn't the only one with something to hide, far from it. As the narrators shift, the new perspective subtly changes what you, the reader, think you know. More info →
This is a noir detective procedural set at a school of magic. Ivy, a private investigator who’s down on her luck, is called to investigate gruesome murder at the school where her twin sister works. It’s not going to be straightforward and simple to figure out how a woman got split in half by a magical spell in a library. Plus, these sisters have a complex relationship—they haven’t seen each other in ten years and the cause of the rift is because Tabitha was magic and Ivy was not. Gailey plays with the family saga but also magic teens and the noir novel so you get to see how they’re subtly turning the genres in really fun ways. More info →
Anthony "Ant" Jones has never left his East Cleveland neighborhood when he receives a scholarship to an almost all-white elite prep school in Maine. Classmates at Belton Academy make all kinds of assumptions about him but Ant finds he no longer fully fits in back home either. A moving YA debut about learning how to stay true to yourself. More info →
When Frankie is excluded from her boyfriend's all-male secret society at their boarding school, she decides to fight back against the system. A funny YA story filled with cliques, pranks, first love, and feminism. More info →
If a school seems too good to be true, it probably is. The prestigious Catherine House offers free tuition, room, and board in exchange for students living completely removed from the outside world for three years. At first, it's the closest thing to home Ines has ever experienced but then things take a tragic turn and she finds herself questioning everything in this Gothic literary suspense debut. More info →
How does zombies + Civil War sound to you? The rise of zombies on the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville altered the War Between The States and led to Jane attending Combat School. Its a great opportunity for a Black girl like Jane but she wants more out of life. Until families start to go missing and Jane finds herself in the middle of a deadly conspiracy. Justina Ireland has created a YA alternative history horror that explores race and gender with nuance...and a whole lot of zombie killing. More info →
Let's say your headmistress and her brother die of poison at Sunday dinner and you dont want your school to be closed or for you to be sent home. Not because of some pesky murderer! What else can seven proper ladies do but hide the bodies and convince neighbors all is well? An entertaining Victorian romp. More info →
Three students at an elite Manhattan ballet school compete, backstab, and stop at nothing to be the very best. Described as "Black Swan meets Pretty Little Liars," it’s soon to be a Netflix TV show. More info →
Cat Sebastian's contribution to the He's Come Undone anthology (Tommy Cabot Was Here) is a second chance historical romance set in 1959 Massachusetts. Everett and Tommy first fell for each other as students at the boarding school where Everett now teaches and Tommy's son attends. There's so much pining between these two, leading to a very satisfying HEA. (Open door.) More info →
Fairy tale retelling lovers will get a kick out of this middle grade series. The mythical School Master takes two 12 year olds every four years and takes them to the School for Good & Evil where they will be trained to become either fairy tale heroes or villains. Whereas most children fear this plight, Sophie dreams of being a fairy tale princess and determines befriending Agatha, her polar opposite, will prove how good she is. But when they’re kidnapped, Agatha is sent to The School of Good and Sophie is sent to The School of Evil and that’s when the real magic begins. More info →
In this YA science fiction duology, six Darkwood Academy students are cloned, including Emma's best friend Oliver who died over the summer. Now she’s back at school where she meets Levi, Oliver's clone and one of the Similars. She doesn't want anything to do with him or the other Similars but as frightening truths emerge and she develops feelings for Levi, it's clear no one at Darkwood can be trusted. More info →
Marlene Carvell brings heartbreaking history alive in this novel in verse. Mohawk sisters Mattie and Sarah are sent to an off-reservation boarding school after the death of their mother. Their father believes they’ll be better off there but instead, they face pressure to assimilate and abuse at the hands of the headmistress. They must figure out a way to protect both their culture and their memories as their bond strengthens. More info →
This moving YA novel tackles poverty, castes, race, and friendship. Set at a Swaziland boarding school, popular girl Adele and social pariah Lottie are forced to be roommates. Thanks to a shared copy of Jane Eyre, they start to see each other more clearly and band against the bullies and prejudiced teachers that would tear their friendship apart. More info →
If the title has you wondering whether this is inspired by Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, you're on the right track. After Jam's boyfriend dies, she goes to a therapeutic boarding school for emotionally fragile, highly intelligent teens in Vermont. A journal-writing assignment for her Special Topics in English class mysteriously transports her to cherished memories of Reeve. After each time, her journal is filled in her handwriting. She must make sense of what she experienced at Belzhar and what she'll do when the semester ends and the journal must be turned in. More info →
A few years after Sophie learned she was a witch, she finds herself in a scrape after a spell goes wrong at prom and her dad ships her off to an isolated reform school for paranormal teens. Someone has been attacking students at Hex Hall and her only friend is the top suspect. Toss in an ancient secret society and things are about to get really interesting. More info →
What are YOUR favorite boarding school novels? Tell us all about them in comments!