If your days on campus are long behind you, have no fear: these 9 novels will give you the opportunity to revisit your school days through a fictional lens.
Some of these are old favorites of mine, some were summer reading picks, one I finally read just for this post. Some are YA, some literary fiction, some contemporary fiction. Some are set in high school, some in college, some stories are told from the professors’ point of view.
I’m looking forward to hearing your favorites in comments.
Campus novels that will make you want to go back to school
In the second of Tana French's Dublin Murder Squad series, which can be read in any order, detective Cassie Maddux is pulled off her current beat and sent to investigate a murder. When she arrives at the scene, she finds the victim looks just like her, and—even more creepy—she was using an alias that Cassie used in a previous case. The victim was a student, and her boss talks her into trying to crack the case by impersonating her, explaining to her friends that she survived the attempted murder. The victim lived with four other students in a strangely intimate, isolated setting, and as Cassie gets to know them, liking them almost in spite of herself, her boundaries—and loyalties—begin to blur. A taut psychological thriller that keeps you guessing till the end.
This is your typical college love story: Nick and Bex are Oxford hallmates who become great friends eating junk food and watching bad tv in the wee hours when they're supposed to be studying. Except that Nick (think: Prince William) is heir to the British throne, and Bex is an American exchange student. This book will not make you feel smarter, wiser, or better read: it’s 100% Kate Middleton fan fiction, and it couldn’t be more fun. An entertaining reimagining of the royal fairy tale. More info →
A fresh update on Jean Webster's 1899 classic Daddy-Long-Legs. Samantha Moore spent her childhood struggling in the foster care system, relying on her favorite literary characters to survive. She even expresses herself using their words when she can't find her own. Samantha's big break comes when a "Mr. Knightley" offers her a full scholarship at the prestigious journalism school at Northwestern University. The only requirement is that Sam write her benefactor regularly to tell him about her progress. Through their correspondence, Sam begins to find her voice ... but then things get complicated. More info →
The publisher describes this as The Fault in Our Stars meets Eleanor & Park, which sounds right to me. This is Niven's eighth novel, but her first for young adult readers, inspired by her friend's experience with mental illness and suicide. Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of their high school's bell tower. It's unclear who saves whom, but an unlikely friendship is born between the troubled bad boy and grieving good girl. But it's only a matter of time before things begin to fall apart. A heartbreaking story of love and friendship. More info →
This is Sayers’ tenth Lord Peter novel, her third featuring Harriet Vane, and undoubtedly one of her finest. (They needn’t be read in order.) When Ms. Vane returns to Oxford for her college's reunion (the “gaudy” of the title), the festive mood on campus is threatened by an alarming outbreak of murderous threats. If you love this, go back and read all the Lord Peter mysteries, beginning with Whose Body?More info →
Pen, Will, and Cat met ("met cute," in fact) during their first week of college and were inseparable during their years on campus. After graduation, they hated the thought of their amazing friendship slowly fading, so they decided to end it. Years go by with no contact, until Pen receives a strange email from Cat begging her to meet her at their college reunion. She can't help but say yes, and that's when their journey begins. A lovely (and often melodramatic—brace yourself) depiction of an unusual friendship across many years, and a thoughtful exploration of the complexities of love, grief, and human nature. More info →
The story begins with a murder, and the lonely, introspective narrator devotes the rest of the novel to telling the reader about his role in it, and how he seemingly got away with it. The setting is a small Vermont college, the characters members of an isolated, eccentric circle of classics majors, who murder one of their own. Strongly reminiscent of The Likeness in setting, Crime and Punishment in plot, and Brideshead Revisited in tone. I finally read this last week, and now I understand why opinions differ widely on Tartt's debut novel: it's a compelling—and chilling—tale, but there's not a single likable character. More info →
Orphaned Harry Potter has no idea how famous he is until he turns 11 and receives his invitation to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, which is exactly like any other British boarding school, but for the subject matter. The whole series is attuned to the rhythms of the school year. The audiobook versions, narrated by Jim Dale, are spectacular. More info →
Stegner forges a compelling story out of the lives of 4 ordinary people, who first come together at the University of Wisconsin Madison. There’s no way to describe this gorgeous novel that doesn’t make it sound dead boring. Don’t read about it; just read it. Superb writing, gentle pacing, and an adroit examination of friendship, love, and marriage. This is one to read again and again. More info →