Elementary and middle school:
The Ramona books by Beverly Cleary - Follow Ramona from age 4 to age 10.
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson - While Astrid spends the summer before junior high at roller derby camp, she can feel her best friend drifting away. Great graphic novel with a sporty punch!
Sixth Grade Secrets by Louis Sachar - Classic girls vs. boys story that also encourages honesty and inspires laughter.
Standing for Socks by Elissa Brent Weissman - Entering middle school, and searching for individualism.
... and, of course, The Baby-Sitters Club. Kristy, Mary Anne, Claudia and Stacey are in seventh grade when the series begins. After a handful of books, they are promoted to eighth grade, at which time they gain two additional members, Jessi and Mallory, who are sixth graders. The girls stay in middle school for the remainder of the series. The original four girls finally graduated from eighth grade at the end of the final series, Friends Forever.
Between middle school and high school:
Transitioning from middle school to high school can be exciting, scary, difficult, and overwhelming. The following stories include middle school graduations and/or the summer between middle school and high school.
The Summer I Saved the World...in 65 Days by Michele Weber Hurwitz
Lucky by Rachel Vail (the first in a trilogy about sisters)
Hot, Sour, Salty, Sweet by Sherri L. Smith
Freshman year of high school:
I highly recommend all of the titles on this freshman list. They get it, they really do.
The True Meaning of Cleavage by Mariah Fredericks - The separation of two best friends. Highly recommended.
Nothing but the Truth by Avi - This documentary novel chronicles the life of a ninth grade boy whose minor disturbance in class leads to a major media story.
Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar - A fantastic story, a well-written book.
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson - School factors heavily into this incredibly memorable story.
Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson - In this case, the freshman is the protagonist's younger sister, Hannah.
So Not the Drama by Paula Chase - Four friends navigate the high school hallways. The first in a series.
Perfect Girl by Mary Hogan - A first crush, a worldly aunt, and so much more.
The Comeback Season by Jennifer E. Smith - Grieving and healing, a girl and a boy, alone and together.
Looks by Madeleine George - One of the two main characters is a freshman, the other a sophomore.
A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell - A freshman girl, still reeling from the loss of her older brother, must enter high school without him there to help her.
Because I am Furniture by Thalia Chaltas - The only member of her family to escape her father's abuse, a quiet girl enters high school, finds her place on the volleyball court, and finds her voice.
Deep in the Heart of High School by Veronica Goldbach - Three best friends - three very different girls who play different instruments in the school marching band and have totally different families - march through their freshman year of high school.
Boarding school and/or private school - for elementary and middle school readers:
The Ballet School Diaries by Alexandra Moss - This cute and fun series for kids is set at a ballet boarding school in the UK.
Accidentally Fabulous series by Lisa Papademetriou - The fashionable protagonist goes to a private middle school on scholarship.
- Accidentally Fabulous
- Accidentally Famous
- Accidentally Fooled
- Accidentally Friends
Boarding school and/or private school - for teen and adult readers:
Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta - Tracing the roots decades-old struggle for power between three types of kids - Jellicoe School (boarding school) students, local Townies, and Cadets from a school in Sydney - and climbing the family tree. Published as On the Jellicoe Road in Australia. Highly recommended.
Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta - An all-boys school goes co-ed. Recommended.
Looking for Alaska by John Green - Coming-of-age at a modern-day Alabama boarding school. Highly recommended.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart - A fresh take on secret societies, with a young girl thwarting some smirky boys. A great book set a modern day boarding school. Highly recommended.
Breathless by Jessica Warman - After something happens to her older brother, Katie's parents send her off to boarding school, and she is surprised by how much she loves it there. The book follows her from sophomore year through graduation.
The Poison Apples by Lily Archer - Three girls at boarding school bond over their family situations: each has recently acquired a stepmother. Though it uses the fairy tale metaphor, this book isn't a fantasy, nor is it magical realism. It is realistic fiction, and it is really good. Modern day.
A Great and Terrible Beauty trilogy by Libba Bray - Historical fantasy set in a Victorian girls' boarding school. Incredibly imaginative and intriguing.
- A Great and Terrible Beauty
- Rebel Angels
- The Sweet Far Thing
Enthusiasm by Polly Shulman - Two best friends consider Pride & Prejudice and get involved in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Modern day. Recommended.
Prom and Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg - A modern-day retelling of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, set in boarding school.
Headlong by Kathe Koja - When a new girl transfers to The Vaughn School, a private school for girls, a lifelong Vaughn student starts to see her school - and her life - differently.
The Gallagher Girls books by Ally Carter - A top-secret modern-day spy school for girls.
The Love series by Emily Franklin - Love starts going to New England boarding school when her dad becomes the principal. Modern day.
The end of senior year:
The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando - One week before they graduate from high school, Mary and her friends take part in their school's official-unofficial scavenger hunt.
The summer following high school graduation:
The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour
Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
The Story of Us by Deb Caletti
The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen
Once and For All by Sarah Dessen
Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando
Return to Me by Justina Chen
Making it through your first year of college:
The Body of Evidence series by Christopher Golden and Rick Hautala - In the first book, Body Bags, protagonist Jenna Blake is just about to enter college. The first line of the first chapter: "It was a beautiful day to grow up." There are ten books in this series, following Jenna through a good chunk of her college life.
We Are Okay by Nina LaCour - Marin suffered a tremendous loss the summer before her freshman year of college. The book goes back and forth between one winter weekend three months into college and May/June before.
Very LeFreak by Rachel Cohn - An intelligent but technology-addicted young woman has a difficult time balancing school and fun during her freshman year at Columbia University.
Additional stories in which school is a supporting character:
Keeping You a Secret by Julie Anne Peters - The main characters start seeing each other before school. Literally.
Innocence by Jane Mendelsohn - Oh, the scenes in the lunchroom! I love this book so much.
Swollen by Melissa Lion - Your perceptions of your classmates may differ from the truth. From their truths. From your truths.
Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan - I wish all schools were this open and accepting. I wish all people were this open and accepting.
Follow a girl through elementary school, middle school, and high school in the Alice McKinley books by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor. The series has over twenty titles. The Agony of Alice was the first book and is set in middle school. The author has since written prequels, making Starting With Alice (third grade) the earliest story on the timeline. The Grooming of Alice describes the summer between her eighth grade and ninth grade years. Alice Alone starts off her freshman year. For the full breakdown of titles and grades, please click here.
Barthe DeClements had fun with her grade-oriented dramadies for young readers:
- The Fourth Grade Wizards by Barthe DeClements
- Nothing's Fair in Fifth Grade in Fifth Grade by Barthe DeClements
- Sixth Grade Can Really Kill You by Barthe DeClements
- How Do You Lose Those Ninth-Grade Blues? by Barthe DeClements
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Good-Bye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton
Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Little Men by Louisa May Alcott
Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery
Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster
For even more stories set in school, please refer to the categories of academic cheating and teacher influence within my Tough Issues for Teens booklist.
Also check out my After Graduation booklist.