Academic novels from student perspective
November 15, 2009 7:21 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for academic novels from the student's perspective (apparently this is a subgenre of campus novels called varsity novels). Bonus for books considered "young adult."

Ideally, I want books like Tam Lin by Pamela Dean: fiction set at a university, narrated by a student, written for an adolescent audience.

But I'll also take adult fiction such as Donna Tartt's The Secret History. Novels that include students among other point-of-view characters, such as Jane Smiley's Moo, are also fair game.

Already on the list:

Ivy League novels by Diana Peterfreund
Light Years by Tammar Stein

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
I am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe
On Beauty by Zadie Smith
Waking the Moon by Elizabeth Hand
Cheese Monkeys by Chip Kidd
Joe College by Tom Perotta
The Magicians by Lev Grossman

I'll take any genre: literary, mystery, SF/fantasy ... Thanks!
posted by alicat to Writing & Language (26 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Adult: Fool on the Hill by Matt Ruff
Doorways in the Sand by Roger Zelazny
posted by Zed at 7:25 PM on November 15, 2009

Prep, by Curtis Sittenfeld.
posted by sugarfish at 7:27 PM on November 15, 2009

This Side of Paradise, by F. Scott Fitzgerald (I always like this one much better than Gatsby).
posted by solipsophistocracy at 7:36 PM on November 15, 2009

Oh, Rob Thomas' Rat's Saw God is a good YA one, though it focuses on high school and application to college rather than a university experience.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 7:39 PM on November 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I sincerely recommend Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks. It meets the following criteria:

1. Young adult (for an adolescent audience)
2. From the student's perspective
3. Science fiction
4. Smart/funny

It may not be exactly what your looking for, in terms of the "University Experience", but it's still about a kid, at a uni, amongst his peers and professors, trying to get through it all intact.

There is a sequel which my 12-year-old son is reading it at the moment, but I haven't been able to steal it off him yet, so the quality is unknown.
posted by Neale at 7:48 PM on November 15, 2009

End Zone by Don Delillo (not YA).
posted by mattbucher at 7:48 PM on November 15, 2009

Everything Looks Impressive by Hugh Kennedy. Set at Yale in the nineties, it is quite good.

From Rockaway, by Jill Eisenstadt. Partly set at a fictionalized version of Bennington, IIRC.
posted by jayder at 7:51 PM on November 15, 2009

Year of the Griffin by Diana Wynne Jones
posted by cheesegrater at 7:53 PM on November 15, 2009

The Education of Robert Nifkin by Daniel Pinkwater, which goes from the horrors of high school to the start of college. Definitely YA.
posted by xil at 7:55 PM on November 15, 2009

A Separate Peace by John Knowles
of course, Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger
posted by pintapicasso at 8:04 PM on November 15, 2009

number 6 fumbles. young adult.
posted by gursky at 8:05 PM on November 15, 2009

The Rules of Attraction, by Bret Easton Ellis. Also, I wrote a novel like this, which you can find via my profile.
posted by escabeche at 8:13 PM on November 15, 2009

Jean Webster's Daddy-Long-Legs and When Patty Went to College (both set in early-20th-century women's colleges; haven't read the latter, but DLL is a young-adult favorite)

Thomas Hughes's Tom Brown at Oxford is probably slightly less accessible to a modern young-adult audience, but still a fascinating look at university life in the Victorian era.
posted by Bardolph at 8:31 PM on November 15, 2009

Another Victorian example: "Cuthbert M. Bede's" The Adventures of Mr. Verdant Green (set at Oxford).
posted by thomas j wise at 8:37 PM on November 15, 2009

Spy Notes needled quite a few of these.
posted by brujita at 8:45 PM on November 15, 2009

tobias wolff - old school
posted by anthropomorphic at 8:51 PM on November 15, 2009

Oh, and A Fan's Notes, by Frederick Exley, if you want the sourest and probably least-appropriate-for-young-adults version of this.
posted by escabeche at 8:55 PM on November 15, 2009

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I'd also recommend Mercedes Lackey's Arrows trilogy (really any of her Valdemar novels, but they're mostly a repetition of the same ideas), which are about students who are high school/college aged heralds training at a "Collegium" on a fantasy planet where they're bonded to psychic horses.

(Those are probably the most disparate book recommendations I've ever made in the same paragraph!)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:12 PM on November 15, 2009

Tell Me If The Lovers Are Losers, by Cynthia Voigt. Definitely YA.
Sorority Sisters, by Tajuana Butler
Lazarus, by Rashid Darden - who is a good friend of mine!
posted by SisterHavana at 9:22 PM on November 15, 2009

I'm a big fan of varsity novels. In fact, I've meant to ask MeFi to recommend books similar to Brideshead Revisited and the two books I'll recommend to you.

I haven't read the two books you named, so I don't know how important the school settings are to the plots. Brideshead Revisited, for instance, has some of the plot taking place at school, but the bulk of it happens off-campus. It's just that the characters are school-age. Both books I'm going to recommend have limited scenes that actually take place in school. Schooling and academia are certainly touched upon, but the bulk of the action doesn't take place in class. My first recommendation is Martin Amis' The Rachel Papers, which features characters roughly the same age as Brideshead Revisited. I really wouldn't consider this a YA novel. The second novel might be more YA-appropriate, but the student in question is a slightly younger character than is the focus of the other books: The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley. The main character is kind of on the cusp of becoming a teenager, and, once again, not much of the action actually takes place at school. But, it's a great novel.

For humorous series that are kid or YA-appropriate, I'd definitely recommend Geoffrey Willans' Molesworth. And, of course, no other book series has a more complete look at a school system (from students' point of view) than the Harry Potter series.
posted by Mael Oui at 9:31 PM on November 15, 2009

Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep takes place at a boarding school, not college, but her The Man of My Dreams largely does. Highly recommended.

Meg Cabot's Size 12 Is Not Fat and its sequels feature a college residence hall assistant director who solves (surprisingly gruesome) mysteries.

Megan McCafferty's books start in high school, but the later ones take place in college.

Michael Chabon's Mysteries of Pittsburgh might fit, but I think it takes place post-graduation, but still in a college town.

Also, take a look at this subject search for College students fiction in Worldcat.
posted by wsquared at 9:41 PM on November 15, 2009

Neal Stephenson's The Big U is enjoyably goofy.
posted by Schlimmbesserung at 1:33 AM on November 16, 2009

Galatea 2.2 by Richard Powers is an amazing novel that I cannot recommend strongly enough. It's set (although not explicitly) at University of Illinois.
posted by mmmbacon at 4:56 AM on November 16, 2009

I'm fond of Apple Pie. ;-)
posted by dzot at 6:31 AM on November 16, 2009

Dink Stover At Yale
posted by IndigoJones at 10:59 AM on November 16, 2009

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