Eight Campus Novels That Will Make You Want to Go Back to School…or Not!

August 22, 2017 Top Ten Tuesday 38

Eight Campus Novels That Will Make You Want to Go Back to School
Regular readers know how big a sucker I am for campus novels, so I was so surprised when I realized I’d never done a round-up of my favorites! And, when I say campus, I mean college, boarding school, or elite private high school. For some reason the “campus” feels more “campus-y” and the potential for drama much greater with these types of schools.

You’ll notice that many of these books fall into the dark and twisty category…which will probably make some of you glad you’re watching all the drama from the sidelines instead of living it!

Eight Campus Novels That Will Make You Want to Go Back to School…or Not!

Black Chalk by Christopher J. Yates (my review)
I feel like I talk about this book all the time…but, with good reason! A secret society, friends backstabbing friends, dares gone way too far…at Oxford University. Bonus: Yates’s sophomore novel, Grist Mill Road, is coming out on January 8 and I couldn’t be more excited! 

If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio (my review)
Seven Shakespeare students who are best friends, life imitating art, a tragedy…at the fictional Dellecher Classical Conservatory (a small, uber-intense performing arts college in the Midwest).

Quicksand by Malin Persson Giolito (my review)
Rich and neglected high schoolers that love to party, a school shooting, an obsessive love story, an abusive father…at a fictional, elite Swedish prep school.

Shadow of the Lions by Christopher Swann (my review)
A boy who disappeared years ago, his best friend who returns to find out what happened…at Blackbourne, a fictional, all boys boarding school in Virginia (but, it’s based on the very real Woodberry Forest School in Orange, VA, also the author’s alma mater).

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach (my review)
Coming of age story, lovable characters, baseball, sports psychology (but, don’t worry, this book is not really about baseball)…at Westish College (a small, fictional college on the shores of Lake Michigan). 

The Lords of Discipline by Pat Conroy (my review)
Possibly my very favorite campus novel and the grandaddy of them all! A gorgeous and sinister Charleston setting, abuse and hazing, friendship…at the very real Citadel (The Military College of South Carolina). 

The Secret History by Donna Tartt (my review)
Best friends, a murder, betrayal…at the fictional Hampden College (a small, elite Vermont college closely resembling Tartt’s alma mater, Bennington College). 

The Takedown by Corrie Wang (my review)
High school girl drama, technology and social media on steroids, public shaming…at a fictional, elite Brooklyn high school.

Are you a fellow sucker for campus novels? What are some of your favorites?

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I'm a huge sucker for campus novels...here are eight of my all-time favorites! Some might make you wish you were back in school...and some won't!

38 Responses to “Eight Campus Novels That Will Make You Want to Go Back to School…or Not!”

  1. Crumb

    I love campus novels so much! Can anyone recommend anything else? Great list Sarah! I just put Lords of Discipline on hold at the library.

  2. Susie | Novel Visits

    I do love campus novels and have read all but three of these. I can’t tell you how excited I am to learn that Yates has a new novel coming out. It sounds excellent and I’ve already added it to my TBR list. Great list!

  3. Elisabeth

    Can’t forget Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld, whose fictional boarding school is based on Groton School in Massachusetts. Curtis was two classes ahead of me there! I can tell you she barely changes any details to “fictionalize” it. And there is always “A separate peace” , which I think I read in 8th grade English.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Thanks for the rec! I’m getting so many from this post…my campus TBR list is exploding!

  4. Lauren

    It’s funny, because I was a tad disappointed by BLACK CHALK, but I’m still really looking forward to GRIST MILL ROAD. It had tons of promise for me, but didn’t deliver all I wanted in the end. Obviously enough that I’m ready to pick up another work by the author. I just read a campus novel you might like. ALL THESE PERFECT STRANGERS by Aoife Clifford. It’s part of my Australian author reading list and won a bunch of Aussie awards. I liked it, but not to the Nth degree. I adored THE ART OF FIELDING right along with you, and keep waiting for his next.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Oh no! Sorry Black Chalk didn’t work for you…was it the actual ending?! I thought he was setting up a sequel, by the way 🙂

      And adding ATPS to my ever-since-this-post exploding campus novel TBR!

      Didn’t it take him 10 yrs to write Fielding? I have a feeling we’ll be waiting awhile…

      • Lauren

        To be honest, I don’t rightly remember, but I’d probably say yes. I know I was enjoying it early on.

        Ha! A new list is the price you pay for starting such a good post/list!

        I have a feeling you’re right.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Rainbow Rowell, right? I haven’t read anything by her yet, but probably need to give her a try!

  5. Renee

    I grabbed Shadow of the Lions at my library the other day after your review, I really like the sound of that one. Great post idea Sarah!

  6. Cholla

    I really do have a thing for books set in boarding schools like Harry Potter or The Vampire Academy books. It’s like these kids have their own little world that no one else is allowed into. Will be adding these to my list!

    Here is our TTT.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Oh my gosh – I totally spaced on the fact that Harry Potter is a campus series! Maybe because I only read the first book.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      That’s what I like to hear and was psyched when I read your review of Lords recently!

  7. Lory @ Emerald City Book Review

    If We Were Villains sounds really good! I need to add it to my ever-growing contemporary list.

    My favorite campus novel is probably Tam Lin by Pamela Dean, because I get a kick out of how it’s set at a fictional version of my own alma mater (Carleton College).

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Very cool! I love it when you’re familiar with the real life inspiration for a fictional setting!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Oh yes! I’d drafted and scheduled the post before my review of Shadows posted. Meant to go back and plug that in. Thanks for pointing that out!

  8. Allison

    Great list! I love The Secret History, and I love campus novels in general. I was actually making a list of these as well, and I was surprised by how few I could think of–especially those set in college. College can have so much drama and intense relationships, it seems like there should be more stories about it. I haven’t heard of some of these and will have to check them out.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      I know, right?! And some of the campus novels are real stinkers…it’s hard to find ones that are done really well. But, when they’re done well, they are some of my absolute favorites!

  9. Tara

    The Art of Fielding is on my all-time favorites list (in my head, since I don’t actually have one written down – ha!) and, since I’m kind of stuck right now, I think I’m going to try Quicksand!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Haha – I sense a campus novel blog post from you!!

      And can’t wait for you to start Quicksand…hopefully it will unstick you!

  10. Donna @ OnDBookshelf

    I need to get to If We Were Villains, been on my shelf since I read many rave reviews of it. I managed to snag a copy of Grist Mill Road at BookExpo, excited to read it.

  11. Gilion @Rose City Reader

    The Secret History was very good! I’ll go look for some of the others — I do love a list!

    I also keep a list of Campus Novels on my Rose City Reader blog, here: http://www.rosecityreader.com/2013/07/list-campus-novels.html.

    But I confess to follow the traditional definition of “campus novel” as stories focusing on the professors, or from the point of view of the professors. Novels about of from the point of view of the students are traditionally called “varsity novels,” although that term has never caught on in America and is used more in Britain I think.

    Sorry to be pedantic! But it might explain a disconnect (perhaps generational) when you see what other people describe as campus novels. My all time favorite is The Groves of Academe by Mary McCarthy, considered to be the first (1952), and bitingly funny. And Lucky Jim by Kingsly Amis (1954) is a close second for comedy.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      That’s so interesting about “varsity novels”…I’d never heard of that term before but I like it! I’m trying to think back on my list and remember if any of those books were from the professor’s perspective…

  12. Megan -- booksandcarbs

    Fangirl is great! I also recommend Straight Man by Richard Russo and Blue Angel by Francine Prose. The Nix by Nathan Hill is not exactly a campus novel, but two of its story lines involve college life.

  13. Jenny @ Reading the End

    Love this post! I love a campus novel, although I feel like I am perpetually trying in vain to recreate that The Secret History magic. I think If We Were Villains is the closest I’ve come so far.

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