Early this school year, when I was wracking my brain for a new display idea, a lyric from Hamilton popped into my head: “They don’t exactly cover this subject in boarding school!” It got me thinking about the number of YA books that take place in boarding schools, especially boarding schools that are a bit unconventional. The resulting display of boarding school stories is one of my most popular displays of the past year and I found myself refilling it time and again. Here are the eight books I started with.
White Cat by Holly Black: In a world where the Eighteenth Amendment, prohibiting magic rather than alcohol, is still in effect, magic runs rampant on a black market controlled by powerful Mafia families like Cassel Sharpe’s. The only non-magical person in his family of so-called Curse Workers, Cassel tries instead to blend into the background, attending the prestigious Wallingford Preparatory School. But when strange things begin happening around him, Cassel discovers that he may be the biggest power player of all. Black’s gritty urban fantasy with ties to a French fairy tale is a great choice for those who love heist stories, mystery, or fantasy.
Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger: In Carriger’s fantastical steam-powered Victorian era, Sophronia Temminnick would much rather dismantle a clock than serve a tea party. Despairing for her daughter’s reputation, Sophronia’s mother ships her off to Mademoiselle Geraldine’s Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. Once she boards the floating dirigible that houses Mademoiselle Geraldine’s, Sophronia finds that the school will teach her not only to conduct herself as a woman in society, but also how to gather intelligence as a spy for the Queen.
I’d Tell You I Love You, But Then I’d Have to Kill You by Ally Carter: The people of Roseville, Virginia believe that the Gallagher Academy is just a school for wealthy heiresses, but sophomore Cammie Morgan and her friends know different–their school is really a training center for future secret agents. A CIA legacy, Cammie has never wanted anything but to follow in her parents’ footsteps, but everything changes when she meets and falls for a local boy while on a routine class surveillance mission. Carter’s series opener combines teenage angst and romance with high-stakes espionage in a rollicking romp.
Tiny Pretty Things by Sona Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton: Bette, Gigi, and June are top students at a prestigious ballet school in New York City, vying for the lead roles in their school performances and hoping to score an apprenticeship with a professional dance company. Cutthroat competition, self-destruction, and even sabotage lurk around every corner as Charaipotra and Clayton take readers behind the scenes and into the lives of the dancers, and no limits apply in the quest for the top.
The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson: Just as Louisiana girl Rory Deveaux lands at her London boarding school to spend the year while her professor parents are on sabbatical, someone starts committing a series of murders in the style of Jack the Ripper. Rory’s school seems to be right in the middle of the crimes. But why is Rory suddenly seeing things no one else can see, and how is that connected to the crime spree? Fans of Ghostbusters will devour this series opener from Johnson.
The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth Laban: Seventeen-year-old albino Tim Macbeth just transferred to the Irving School and desperately wants to go through his senior year unnoticed. He finds himself falling for Vanessa, one of the most popular girls in school, and is shocked to find that she likes him back. Tim and Vanessa begin a clandestine romance in the shadow of the Tragedy Paper, a huge assignment given by the strictest teacher in the school, in this novel of love and secrets.
Winger by Andrew Smith: Fourteen-year-old Ryan Dean West is the youngest member of the junior class at Pine Mountain Academy, and he has a lot on his plate. He’s not really a troublemaker, but an incident last year has Ryan Dean living in Opportunity Hall, where pranks abound as he juggles life, rugby, and falling in love with his best friend, Annie.
The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater: Born into a family of clairvoyants, Blue Sargent has spent her life knowing two universal truths: She will kill her true love with a kiss and the Raven Boys, the wealthy young men who attend the nearby Aglionby Academy, are nothing but trouble. But when Blue sees the spirit of Raven Boy Gansey walking the corpse road on St. Mark’s Eve, their paths are destined to cross. Magic, mystery, and mythology blend seamlessly in the opener of Stiefvater’s tetralogy.