Relive school or college days or recapture your academic spirit with one of these "campus" novels.
“Mrs. Fletcher” by Tom Perrotta. Brendan Fletcher, a stereotypical multi-sport, high-school jock, begins his first year of college and realizes that the things that sustained his image in high school don’t necessarily work on the modern university campus. Faced with support groups, political artists, civil-rights protests and poor grades, Brendan doesn’t know where to turn. Meanwhile, his single mother, and now empty-nester, Eve, takes a “Gender and Society” course at the local community college that challenges her beliefs about sexuality and normality. Both mother and son are experimenting with the boundaries of their newly-found freedom within the context of the digital age.
“The Marriage Plot” by Jeffrey Eugenides. Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell constitute a lopsided love-triangle of three friends at Brown University in the early 1980s. Madeleine writes her thesis on the “marriage plot” in Jane Austen and George Eliot. Intellectual Leonard focuses on deconstruction in post-modernism. Mitchell seeks higher spiritual truths and believes that God has called Madeleine to be his wife. A tale of clashing values and goals, the three seek to find their paths as college ends and “real life” begins.
“The Secret History” by Donna Tartt. Set on the campus of a prestigious Vermont college, a misfit group of Classics students murder a fellow student. The why and the how are slowly and shockingly revealed through the eyes of transfer student Richard Papen who is reluctantly allowed into the group’s inner circle. “The Secret History” is a page-turning thriller that explores themes of friendship, loyalty and intellectual obsession.
“Straight Man” by Richard Russo. A laugh-out-loud campus satire that skewers the absurdities of academia, including inane faculty meetings, a “Balkanized” English Department, pompous colleagues and a troublesome campus goose. Russo, himself a professor, sets a pitch-perfect tone in this hilarious novel.
“On Beauty” by Zadie Smith. On Beauty is a complex novel, with well-developed characters and tight intricacies of plot. It tells the story of two families: the Belseys and the Kippses. The patriarchs of both families have been in academic competition with each other for decades. The transatlantic enmity between them grows into outright conflict when Monty Kipps, a right-wing firebrand, begins a year as a visiting professor at Wellington, the east-coast American college where Howard Belsey teaches. On Beauty is a post-postmodern novel, international in scope, and involving themes and variations on race, class, gender and politics.
“I am Charlotte Simmons” by Tom Wolfe. Charlotte, a brilliant student from impoverished, rural North Carolina, earns a scholarship to the prestigious Dupont University, and dreams of intellectual stimulation unlike she has ever known. Instead, she finds a world of wealth, privilege and debauchery. Although she wants to play the same games of sexual intrigue as her classmates, she possesses none of the requisite hardness and cynicism, so her efforts are personally devastating. Wolfe, a master storyteller, deftly tackles big themes - purity, vanity, greed, social class - within the campus context.
“Prep” by Curtis Sittenfeld. Sittenfeld’s first novel, “Prep,” tells the story of Lee Fiora, a fourteen-year-old girl from Indiana who transfers to an elite prep school in Massachusetts. Her Midwestern sensibility immediately clashes with the privileged ennui of her wealthy classmates. As Lee traverses adolescence in this new environment, she makes choices with adult-level consequences and grows further apart from her family. Sittenfeld’s vast talent is undeniable in this well-told coming-of-age tale.
“The Most Dangerous Place on Earth” by Lindsey Lee Johnson. Where is the most dangerous place on earth? According to Lindsey Lee Johnson, it's the suburban, affluent, American high school. Johnson's plot points run the gamut - suicide, inappropriate teacher/student relationships, drug use, peer pressure, bullying, drunk driving, privilege, social media; no stone is left unturned. Overall, an enjoyable book with tightly-drawn characters.
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