When I was younger, I was obsessed with the Malory Towers and St. Clare’s series by Enid Blyton. And anyone who reads For Books’ Sake on a regular basis will already know about my hardcore crush on Harry Potter.
But while the classic boarding school stories and their more magical counterparts (not going to Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches was a true childhood tragedy, and I’m still hoping for my Hogwarts acceptance letter to arrive) have an enduring appeal for anyone wishing their adolescence involved more midnight feasts, dormitory fun and frolics and oddball adventure, here are a few other options to explore…
Autumn Term by Antonia Forest
Originally published in 1948, this cult classic has recently been reissued, bringing the Marlow sisters to an entire new audience. Beloved by many for featuring characters and plots more complex than the somewhat stock devices used by more formulaic books in the school stories genre, Autumn Term is the first in the series, and follows identical twins Nicola and Laurie through their first semester at Kingscote School for Girls. Strangely intense and involving, the Marlows’ misadventures are a charming, cosy read for a rainy afternoon.
The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman
If you loved The Secret History, then this first novel by Carol Goodman might be a suitable substitute for your annual re-read of Donna Tartt‘s gorgeously dark and disturbing début (surely it can’t just be me?). It tells the story of Jane Hudson, a Latin teacher returning to sinister and isolated Heart Lake School for Girls.
When she was a student at the school, there were several deaths that seemed to be suicides, and Jane recorded it all in a long since lost diary. Now, more tragedies are taking place, and pages from Jane’s journal are reappearing in unlikely places. Written in sensuous, compelling prose, this is an atmospheric story sure to keep you in suspense.
A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray
Featured by The Bodice Ripper back in August, this novel of ‘myth, magic and Victorian mean girls‘ is another genre-bending boarding school story set in a Victorian girls’ academy. The first instalment in a trilogy, it combines mystery, menace, sex, fantasy (not that kind, you perverts) and friendship, exploring the relationships between protagonist Gemma Doyle, her clique of fellow outcasts, and a rival trio of antagonistic classmates.
Gemma’s been battling strange and unexplained visions since her sixteenth birthday, but when she discovers a diary penned by a former schoolgirl with the same trait, she realises she has far more about herself and her abilities left to learn. An original take on a sometimes tired genre, this is a rich and enchanting read, ideal if you’re looking for escapism.
Still want more? Here’s three of our favourite naughty schoolgirls. Or tell us about the boarding school story you recommend we read…