Alsenas, Linas Beyond Clueless
249 pp. Abrams/Amulet 2015. ISBN 978-1-4197-1496-2
Ever since fifth grade, Martha “Marty” Sullivan has been happy with just one friend: flamboyantly gay Jimmy. But now she’s attending an all-girls’ Catholic high school, which expands her social horizons both among girls (rebellious new friend Xiang) and guys. This mostly light comedy of errors is an honest portrayal of the cluelessness inherent in early high schoolers.
Subjects: Older Fiction; Schools—Catholic schools; Schools—High schools; Homosexuality; Theater; Music; Friendship
Carriger, Gail Etiquette & Espionage
307 pp. Little 2013. ISBN 978-0-316-19008-4
Finishing School series. In a parallel Victorian England, Sophronia is recruited by Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. Students aboard the academy dirigible learn “the fine arts of death, diversion, and the modern weaponries” from a faculty boasting a werewolf and a vampire. Blending intrigue and school story, Carriger introduces readers to a supernatural-meets-steampunk world full of action and wit.
Subjects: Older Fiction; Great Britain; Robots; Spies; Etiquette; Schools—Boarding schools; Victorian England; Science fiction; Supernatural
Cavallaro, Brittany A Study in Charlotte
324 pp. HarperCollins/Tegen 2016. ISBN 978-0-06-239890-1
Connecticut boarding-school students Charlotte Holmes and James Watson, descendants of Sherlock and Dr. Watson, are framed for a murder that’s staged with clues straight out of their ancestors’ “Speckled Band” case. The teens navigate their own muddled relationship while racing to find the real killer. Complex characters and a dark, twisty-turny plot (involving drugs, rape, revenge, and Moriartys) make for an above-average Holmes-Watson reboot.
Subjects: Older Fiction; Mystery and detective stories; Schools—Boarding schools; Connecticut; Holmes, Sherlock; Murder; Detectives; Behavior—Revenge; Rape; Substance abuse—Drugs; Family
Hattemer, Kate The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy
327 pp. Knopf 2014. ISBN 978-0-385-75378-4 LE ISBN 978-0-385-75379-1 Ebook ISBN 978-0-385-75380-7
When teen reality show For Art’s Sake comes to Ethan’s bohemian high school, his charismatic best friend Luke proposes a “folk uprising”: a scathing long poem, inspired by Ezra Pound, distributed to the student body through guerilla tactics. But the poem lands Luke a spot on the show (his apparent objective all along). Ethan’s self-deprecating and witty voice makes him an appealing narrator.
Subjects: Older Fiction; Art; Artists; Television; Schools—High schools; Poets; Poetry; Minnesota; Pound, Ezra
Jocelyn, Marthe What We Hide
279 pp. Random/Lamb 2014. ISBN 978-0-385-73847-7 LE ISBN 978-0-385-90732-3 Ebook ISBN 978-0-375-89465-7
This story set at an English boarding school during the Vietnam War is told from alternating viewpoints. Each classmate reveals to the reader what he or she is hiding from the others. Jocelyn makes each character distinctly believable — differently flawed yet sympathetic. There’s a satisfying arc of discovery for each individual — some of whom keep their secrets, others who let them go.
Subjects: Older Fiction; Schools—Boarding schools; Secrets; History, Modern—Vietnam War; England; Behavior—Truthfulness and falsehood
Juby, Susan The Truth Commission
314 pp. Viking 2015. ISBN 978-0-451-46877-2
This story recounts the excavation of truth — and its unanticipated after-effects — by three students at a super-artsy Vancouver high school. When the Truth Commission is born, dynamics shift both at school and home. Narrator Normandy’s wry, detailed observations range from funny to painfully honest. Bright dialogue and vivid characters draw readers along as the three artists navigate truths both light and dark.
Subjects: Older Fiction; Artists; Family—Siblings; Behavior—Truthfulness and falsehood; Family; Schools—High schools; Vancouver (BC)
Knowles, Jo Read Between the Lines
330 pp. Candlewick 2015. ISBN 978-0-7636-6387-2 Ebook ISBN 978-0-7636-7421-2
Nine teens and one teacher each tell a story about a seemingly ordinary school day in November. Each story reveals more about the characters — their secrets, troubled family lives, crushes, and friendships — and how they relate to one another. (Often, it’s through someone giving someone else the finger, a gesture appearing in each story.) These interconnected stories create a powerful, complex whole.
Subjects: Older Fiction; Short stories
Knudsen, Michelle Evil Librarian
346 pp. Candlewick 2014. ISBN 978-0-7636-6038-3 Ebook ISBN 978-0-7636-7087-0
Cynthia is an ordinary sixteen-year-old. She has a BFF, Annie; a crush on musical theater prodigy, Ryan; and a job tech-directing the school’s Sweeney Todd production. But ordinariness goes to hell — literally — when new librarian Mr. Gabriel seems to be mesmerizing students. A Buffy-esque blend of supernatural-baddie confrontation, school story, and dark comedy, with a sweet romance thrown in for good measure.
Subjects: Older Fiction; Supernatural; Theater; Schools—High schools; Libraries
Konigsberg, Bill Openly Straight
328 pp. Scholastic/Levine 2013. ISBN 978-0-545-50989-3
Rafe is sick of being the poster child for all things gay at his uber-liberal Colorado high school, so when he gets into a Massachusetts boarding school for his junior year, he decides to reboot himself as “openly straight.” Konigsberg slyly demonstrates how thoroughly assumptions of straightness are embedded in everyday interactions. For a thought-provoking take on the coming-out story, look no further.
Subjects: Older Fiction; Colorado; Massachusetts; Schools—Boarding schools; Homosexuality; Identity
Medina, Meg Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass
263 pp. Candlewick 2013. ISBN 978-0-7636-5859-5
New to a Queens high school, Piddy Sanchez gets word that a girl she doesn’t know has it in for her. As the bullying intensifies, so do Piddy’s fear and lack of self-worth; she’s soon retreating from life more than living it. Is it easier to give up and become a “nobody” or fight back? Teens will identify with Piddy’s struggle to decide.
Subjects: Older Fiction; Behavior—Bullying; Schools—High schools; Queens (New York, NY); New York (NY); Latino Americans; Gossip; Self-esteem; Family—Mother and daughter
Reynolds, Jason and Kiely, Brendan All American Boys
316 pp. Atheneum/Dlouhy 2015. ISBN 978-1-4814-6333-1 Ebook ISBN 978-1-4814-6335-5
When a quick stop at the corner store suddenly escalates into police brutality, high school classmates Rashad (who is African American) and Quinn (who is white) are linked and altered by the violence — Rashad as victim and Quinn as witness. This nuanced novel explores issues of racism, power, and justice with a diverse (ethnically and philosophically) cast and two remarkable protagonists.
Subjects: Older Fiction; African Americans; Police officers; Race relations; Prejudices; Schools—High schools; Violence
Schreiber, Joe Con Academy
236 pp. Houghton 2015. ISBN 978-0-544-32020-8
Will Shea and Andrea Dufresne faked identities to win scholarships to New England’s elite Connaughton Academy. Wary of detection, they develop a high-stakes contest: whoever cons a classmate out of ten thousand dollars stays. Enter Brandt Rush, a wheeler-dealer who practically runs Connaughton, and the trio of unlikable characters is in place. Schreiber’s plot is pure fun, deliciously convoluted, and full of surprises.
Subjects: Older Fiction; Schools—Boarding schools; Swindlers and swindling
Wolitzer, Meg Belzhar
264 pp. Dutton 2014. ISBN 978-0-525-42305-8
After her boyfriend’s death, Jam is shipped to a boarding school for “emotionally fragile, highly intelligent” teens. She’s placed in a course for which the only materials are Sylvia Plath’s poems, The Bell Jar, and a journal to write in. Much of this powerful book straddles the real and the supernatural, but it’s ultimately about the otherworldly things the mind is capable of.
Subjects: Older Fiction; Plath, Sylvia; Writing; Death; Emotions—Grief; Emotional problems; Diaries; Schools—Boarding schools; Dating; Vermont; Supernatural
Wooding, Chris Silver
315 pp. Scholastic 2014. ISBN 978-0-545-60392-8 Ebook ISBN 978-0-545-62191-5
Loner Paul, bully Adam, golden girl Erika, wannabe Caitlyn, and geeky Mark each struggle to survive when a virulent and predatory nanovirus turns Mortingham Boarding Academy into a steampunk-flavored hunting ground of zombie-like machine hybrids. A maestro of atmosphere and primal fear, Wooding uses high-school dynamics, personal growth, and a touch of heroism to humanize this apocalyptic slasher-thriller.
Subjects: Older Fiction; Epidemics; Schools—Boarding schools; Science fiction; Zombies; Emotions—Fear; Survival; Diseases
Yee, Lisa The Kidney Hypothetical: Or How to Ruin Your Life in Seven Days
266 pp. Scholastic/Levine 2015. ISBN 978-0-545-23094-0 Ebook ISBN 978-0-545-63399-4
High-school senior Higgs Boson Bing loses his girlfriend, his best friend, his popularity, and his future at Harvard all in one week. Higgs wins readers over with his genuine surprise at discovering he’s a self-centered jerk; flashbacks hint that deep down he’s a decent guy. The satisfying ending, in which Higgs quickly makes amends, is a fitting whirlwind of a conclusion.
Subjects: Older Fiction; Schools—High schools; California; Family; Friendship; Family—Siblings
From the August 2016 issue of What Makes a Good…?: “What Makes a Good School Story?” For more recommended school stories, see “From the Guide: First-Day-of-School Picture Books” from the September/October 2016 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.