Summer is quickly drawing to a close, and for many people, this means a return to college or a first-time arrival. There are plenty of great books set on college campuses. Some of them are incredibly relatable, while others veer into satire and even surrealism. Either way, there’s something for everyone on this list. Read on!
Bunny by Mona Awad
Samantha Heather Mackey, an outsider in a prestigious MFA program, despises the clique of rich girls in her writing cohort. They seem to move and speak as one and unironically call each other Bunny. But when they invite her to their famous Smut Salon, she finds herself drawn into their eerie world. The lines of reality blur in their ritualistic, off-campus workshop with deadly consequences ensuing.
Bunny is a macabre, almost fairy-tale of a college story that puts a unique spin on the coming-of-age novel. Mona Awad satirizes the cliquish reality of MFA programs while going to some very dark places.
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
Alex Stern is the last person you would expect to get into Yale on a full ride, and yet she has: on one condition. Her mysterious benefactor has tasked her with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. Known as the haunts of the future rich and powerful, the societies also engage in occult activities that turn out to be more sinister and terrifying than Alex could ever imagine.
The Idiot by Elif Batuman
In 1995, Selin, a daughter of Turkish immigrants, begins her freshman year at Harvard. Through email correspondence with Ivan, a Hungarian mathematics student, and friendship with her charismatic and worldly Serbian classmate, Svetlana, Selin navigates newfound friendships, explores the meanings of writing, and embarks on a transformative summer in Europe.
A current BookTok favorite, The Idiot has a quirky protagonist, smart insights and a dry sense of humor. Elif Batuman fully captures the confusing emotions new college students and young people in general experience as they enter into the world for the first time.
Loveless by Alice Oseman
Georgia has never kissed anyone or had a crush, let alone been in love. As she starts university with her friends by her side, she’s sure that everything is about to change. Her quest for romance, however, leads to chaos among her friends and a deep dive into her own feelings. As she grapples with new terms like asexual and aromantic, Georgia wonders if she’s been searching for the wrong thing all along.
The newest prose novel from Heartstopper author Alice Oseman, Loveless is another great story about finding yourself in the world, particularly in college. Georgia is an incredibly relatable character that easily stands alongside more familiar favorites like Nick and Charlie.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Bonded by their charismatic Ancient Greek professor, a group of brilliant but eccentric students at an elite New England college embrace a unique mindset and lifestyle. However, their pursuit of a more extraordinary life leads them down a treacherous path of obsession, and they cross moral boundaries into corruption and betrayal.
The Secret History is the quintessential college story; it’s the first one everyone thinks of first when they hear the phrase dark academia. Donna Tartt’s influence on other authors in this genre is clear from the way this book satirizes the eliteness of private colleges and the often cult-like atmosphere they can produce.
Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu
Eric “Bitty” Bittle may have gotten his start as a figure skater, but he’s determined to make a name for himself on the Samwell University ice hockey team. But freshman year is harder than expected, especially when he meets the stoic Samwell captain, Jack. He may be the smallest guy on the ice, but nothing can stop Sam from winning over the entire team.
Once again I am asking you to read Check, Please!. Ngozi Ukazu’s webcomic turned graphic novel sensation takes place at Samwell University and is a perfect campus story about finding your place and your people away from the familiarity of home.
Chemistry by Weike Wang
The optimist sees the glass half full. The pessimist sees the glass half empty. The chemist sees the glass completely full, half in liquid state and half gaseous, both of which are probably poisonous.
On the surface, the quirky, overworked narrator seems to have everything put together. She’s a brilliant, hardworking PhD student, her supportive boyfriend just proposed and her Chinese parents are satisfied, if not proud. Her internal struggles and external pressures, however, lead her life plan to veer off course. Propelled onto a new path, she must question her choices and confront the uncertainties of her future.
Chemistry’s unnamed protagonist is incredibly relatable to anyone who’s ever felt pressured to succeed – so pretty much everyone. Weike Wang’s novel will resonate on an even deeper level with anyone that’s encountered failure in a high-pressure academic or work setting as well as anyone that has a complicated relationship with their parents.
These are just a few of the great books that take place on college campuses. All of them are available at your local independent bookstore or Bookshop.org. Let us know if your favorite made the cut below, and keep an eye out for more reading recommendations.
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