Return to the halls of your high school and campus dorm rooms with these back to school reads.
The Shakespeare Requirement by Julie Schumacher
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune keep hitting beleaguered English professor Jason Fitger right between the eyes in this sequel to the cult classic Dear Committee Members.
Now is the fall of his discontent, as Jason Fitger, newly appointed chair of the English Department of Payne University, takes arms against a sea of troubles, personal and institutional. His ex-wife is sleeping with the dean who must approve whatever modest initiatives he undertakes. The fearsome department secretary Fran clearly runs the show (when not taking in rescue parrots and dogs) and holds plenty of secrets she’s not sharing. The lavishly funded Econ Department keeps siphoning off English’s meager resources and has taken aim at its remaining office space. And Fitger’s attempt to get a mossbacked and antediluvian Shakespeare scholar to retire backfires spectacularly when the press concludes that the Bard is being kicked to the curricular curb.
“[A] wicked satire of the inner workings of the academy… Highly recommended.” —Library Journal, starred review
The Radicals by Ryan McIlvain
A fiercely intelligent, wonderfully human illustration of friendship, empathy, and suspicion in the midst of political upheaval.
When Eli first meets Sam Westergard, he is dazzled by his new friend’s charisma, energy, and determined passion. Both graduate students in New York City, the two young men bond over their idealism, their love of poetry, and their commitment to socialism, both in theory and in practice—this last taking the form of an organized protest against Soline, a giant energy company that has speculated away the jobs and savings of thousands. As an Occupy-like group begins to coalesce around him, Eli realizes that some of his fellow intellectuals are more deeply—and dangerously—devoted to the cause than others.
The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson
In this captivating novel, an unforgettable cast of characters is unleashed into a realm known for its cruelty—the American high school.
The wealthy enclaves north of San Francisco are not the paradise they appear to be, and nobody knows this better than the students of a local high school. Despite being raised with all the opportunities money can buy, these vulnerable kids are navigating a treacherous adolescence in which every action, every rumor, every feeling, is potentially postable, shareable, viral.
Into this complicated web, an idealistic young English teacher arrives from a poorer, scruffier part of California. Molly Nicoll strives to connect with her students—without understanding the middle school tragedy that played out online and has continued to reverberate in different ways for all of them.
“Alarming, compelling . . . Here’s high school life in all its madness.”—The New York Times
Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
An insightful, achingly funny coming-of-age story as well as a brilliant dissection of class, race, and gender in a hothouse of adolescent angst and ambition.
Lee Fiora is an intelligent, observant fourteen-year-old when her father drops her off in front of her dorm at the prestigious Ault School in Massachusetts.
As Lee soon learns, Ault is a cloistered world of jaded, attractive teenagers who spend summers on Nantucket and speak in their own clever shorthand. Both intimidated and fascinated by her classmates, Lee becomes a shrewd observer of—and, ultimately, a participant in—their rituals and mores. As a scholarship student, she constantly feels like an outsider and is both drawn to and repelled by other loners. By the time she’s a senior, Lee has created a hard-won place for herself at Ault. But when her behavior takes a self-destructive and highly public turn, her carefully crafted identity within the community is shattered.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality their lives are changed profoundly and forever, and they discover how hard it can be to truly live and how easy it is to kill.
“Her writing bewitches us . . . The Secret History is a wonderfully beguiling book, a journey backward to the fierce and heady friendships of our school days, when all of us believed in our power to conjure up divinity and to be forgiven any sin.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer
Green by Sam Graham-Felsen
“A fierce and brilliant book, comic, poignant, perfectly observed, and blazing with all the urgent fears and longings of adolescence.”—Helen Macdonald, author of H Is for Hawk
Boston, 1992. David Greenfeld is one of the few white kids at the Martin Luther King, Jr., Middle School. Everybody clowns him, girls ignore him, and his hippie parents won’t even buy him a pair of Nikes, let alone transfer him to a private school. Unless he tests into the city’s best public high school which, if practice tests are any indication, isn’t likely he’ll be friendless for the foreseeable future.
Nobody’s more surprised than Dave when Marlon Wellings sticks up for him in the school cafeteria. Mar’s a loner from the public housing project on the corner of Dave’s own gentrifying block, and he confounds Dave’s assumptions about black culture: He’s nerdy and neurotic, a Celtics obsessive whose favorite player is the gawky, white Larry Bird. But as Dave welcomes his new best friend into his world, he realizes how little he knows about Mar’s. Cracks gradually form in their relationship, and Dave starts to become aware of the breaks he’s been given and that Mar has not.
Old School by Tobias Wolff
The protagonist of Tobias Wolff’s shrewdly—and at times devastatingly—observed novel is a boy at an elite prep school in 1960. He is an outsider who has learned to mimic the negligent manner of his more privileged classmates. Like many of them, he wants more than anything on earth to become a writer. But to do that he must first learn to tell the truth about himself.
The agency of revelation is the school literary contest, whose winner will be awarded an audience with the most legendary writer of his time. As the fever of competition infects the boy and his classmates, fraying alliances, exposing weaknesses, Old School explores the ensuing deceptions and betrayals with an unblinking eye and a bottomless store of empathy.
Sleepwalking by Meg Wolitzer
A story of three college students who shared fascination with poetry and death, and how one of them must face difficult truths in order to leave her obsession behind.
Sleepwalking tells the story of the three notorious “death girls,” so called on the Swarthmore campus because they dress in black and are each absorbed in the work and suicide of a different poet: Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and Wolitzer’s creation Lucy Asher, a gifted writer who drowned herself at twenty-four. At night the death girls gather in a candlelit room to read their heroines’ work aloud. But an affair with Julian, an upperclassman, pushes sensitive, struggling Claire Danziger—she of the Lucy Asher obsession-–to consider to what degree her “death girl” identity is really who she is. As she grapples with her feelings for Julian, her own understanding of herself and her past begins to shift uncomfortably and even disturbingly. Finally, Claire takes drastic measures to confront the facts about herself that she has been avoiding for years.
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
As children Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules where teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were. Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her life. And for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared past and understand just what it is that makes them special—and how that gift will shape the rest of their time together.
Stoner by John Williams
“It’s simply a novel about a guy who goes to college and becomes a teacher. But it’s one of the most fascinating things that you’ve ever come across.”—Tom Hanks, Time
William Stoner is born at the end of the nineteenth century into a poor Missouri farming family. He was sent to the state university to study agronomy. Instead he falls in love with English literature and embraces a scholar’s life, so different from the hardscrabble existence he has known. And yet as the years pass, Stoner encounters a succession of disappointments: marriage into a “proper” family estranges him from his parents; his career is stymied; his wife and daughter turn coldly away from him; a transforming experience of new love ends under threat of scandal. Driven ever deeper within himself, Stoner rediscovers the stoic silence of his forebears and confronts an essential solitude.