A Separate Peace
The best of YA before YA was a thing. One of the first books to consider private schools as akin to Eden. The Devon School is depicted as exclusive, blissful, intellectually brimming, safe, but not impervious to the very real struggles of young men coming of age during war time.
This is Eric Segal’s OTHER great book. The reflections of five men upon returning to Harvard for a 25th reunion is honest and direct. It is also a rare glimpse, for the time, into the psyche of men who have not achieved to their full potential having earned society’s golden ticket (a Harvard degree). The Class is authentic and true in the simplicity of language and sentiment.
The Secret History
Who knew a group of classics majors in a remote university could manifest such a compelling thriller? Tartt never lets up on the dark side of elitism and intellectualism in this compelling murder mystery in reverse.
The ultimate caution of never meet your heroes, Old School feels like A Separate Peace rejiggered for the 21st century. The era maybe different, but the angst and self-discovery of teenage boys to men remains the same.
Admittedly, I think I liked this book because it’s set in the ’80s and I could not help but think that could have been me if my parents had shipped me off to boarding school. But Sittenfeld writes so well about the universality of teenage torment that, honestly, anyone who has reached a second decade of life can find connection in at least one character or turn of events in Prep.
Meg Mitchell Moore
When I was born, parenting consisted of birthing the baby, taking her home, and then letting her play and go to school while mom drank Tab—lots of Tab. The Admissions aptly captures the shift to round-the-clock over-parenting for perfection that the children of the diet drink generation grew to become as adults.
A powerful mother-daughter story, interracial romance, and deliciously fun schoolyard drama, Tiny Imperfections is also a celebration of a fundamental truth: It doesn’t matter who you are—race, religion, sexual orientation—parents share a common goal to ensure success and true happiness for their children. And it’s funny; really, really funny.
Growing up in rural Washington, my inexplicable fascination with the world of elite American schools began with a dog-eared copy of The Preppy Handbook. My L.L. Bean Blucher moccasins stood in sharp contrast to the Tony Lama cowboy boots roaming my high school hallways on the daily. But I believed if I studied the anguish and actions of the privileged as diligently as I did my calculus I, too, may pass through hallowed halls at some point in my academic career. And so it came to be, first as an undergraduate and graduate student, followed by a professional path as a teacher and private school administrator.
After twenty years in education, Asha Youmans, a fellow private school educator, and I co-wrote Tiny Imperfections. A modern tale of west coast elitism, kindergarten admissions, the culture of privilege and single parenting, the process of writing Tiny Imperfections brought me right back to the long list of books I have devoured over my lifetime that are immersed in this rarified world. While my reading on educational institutions is vast, the following is a curated list of some of my favorites through the decades.
With school currently out of session for the majority of children, college students and adults pursuing further education, immersing yourself into a school community, even if it is not your own, may provide a familiar comfort in a time of uncertainty.
Featured image: @stephanie27 via Twenty20