books books books
October 7, 2019 1:45 PM   Subscribe

Looking for books (also open to movies or tv shows) that are set in boarding schools/residential college campuses/artist residencies. NOT interested in dude main characters. Other preferences below.

-As stated above, female protagonist. Not “one of the main characters is a girl” not “okay technically the main character is a dude but this female side character is awesome” not “he’s a dude but you’ll like him I swear” or any of that bullshit. Female. Protagonist.
-Minimal to no focus on het romance. I’ll suffer through it as a small (SMALL) C-plot if the A-plot is good enough, but I’ll be cranky about it. Especially if it expects me to care about Mr. Angsty McLeatherJacket and his Deep Dark Feelings. (On the other hand, Ms. Angsty McLeatherJacket and her Deep Dark Feelings is totally welcome.)

Would like, but not required:
-Queer main characters
-Some semblance of a happy end. Doesn’t need to be all sunshine and rainbows, but would prefer not to be emotionally destroyed
-Focus on relationships between women
-Doesn’t jump between multiple POVs

Examples of books I’ve liked in this category:
-Roses and Rot
-Fangirl (a little heavy on the het romance—I would have loved this book approximately 5 million times more of Levi were a girl)
-Every Heart a Doorway
-The Likeness
-school parts of The Secret Place (both this and The Likeness maybe fall a bit too much into the Emotional Destruction category, but including them anyway)

Not looking for:
-The Secret History (dude)
-I Am Charlotte Simmons (I honestly remember very little about this other than it being a steaming pile of nope)

What are your faves?

Again, I am really super not looking for books about dudes.
posted by tan_coul to Media & Arts (36 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
I was going to recommend Tam Lin by Pamela Dean, which has a female protagonist named Janet, and is based on one of the ballads where the lady gets to rescue the dude. However, there is a focus on het romance - it's not the only thing going on, there are also people learning how friendships work and how you develop as a person and find out more about yourself and what you want for yourself. (There is some suggestion of potentially queer relationships in the background but they are not foregrounded at all.) Actually, I'll still recommend it because it fits so many of your other criteria. It's one of my favorites and is also a book that really rewards rereading. In my head it fits in as one leg of tripod also made up of Dorothy L. Sayers' Gaudy Night and The Secret History.

For what it's worth, there is a lot in Gaudy Night, another book of my heart and one chock-full of female relationships, that you might like, although again there is a het romance in it. (Perhaps one you will not be invested in, especially depending on whether or not you have read Strong Poison and Have His Carcase.
posted by PussKillian at 1:53 PM on October 7, 2019 [8 favorites]

Can we interest you in Revolutionary Girl Utena? (The anime is weird. Personally I liked the manga).

Maria-sama ga Miteru is the canonical girl love manga/anime set in a boarding school, although personally I haven't read it.
posted by sukeban at 1:54 PM on October 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

Anne of the Island meets some of your criteria if not all (though you probably want to read or re-read the first couple of books before diving into Anne's college life.) Join us talking about them in FanFare!
posted by asperity at 2:32 PM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think you might like Prep
posted by Mchelly at 2:35 PM on October 7, 2019 [7 favorites]

If you are interested in post-apocalyptic (but set in the present day) body horror in a girl's boarding school with queer characters, Wilder Girls might fit the bill. Caveat: I was personally not emotionally destroyed at the ending, but it is also not, like, super happy (see: body horror).
posted by EmilyFlew at 2:42 PM on October 7, 2019

If webcomics count, Gunnerkrigg Court (I haven't totally kept up with it, so can't promise there's no romance, but it certainly wasn't the point).

Dorothy Sayers's Gaudy Night has a romance B-plot, but if you really want that university atmosphere, and endless rumination on what it means to be a woman in that atmosphere, I think you'd be denying yourself not to read it.

(Merely a private school: Marisha Pessl's Special Topics in Calamity Physics, which is really big on relationships between girls and women, although the protagonist's relationship with her father is also important.)
posted by praemunire at 3:11 PM on October 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

Books: maybe Juliet Takes a Breath? Though if you're willing to go a little further back, Mary McCarthy and Muriel Spark basically originated this trope.

TV shows: Dear White People and Derry Girls, both of which are FANTASTIC.
posted by rdc at 3:17 PM on October 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

Malory Towers fits all your criteria except contemporary (time period not very clear, but seems to be post-WW2? They were written 1946-1951, and one of the minor characters is a girl who was evacuated to the States, I think -- they make a muchness of her accent). They start off at age 12, and the series follows them until they go to university.

The only dude is the music teacher who is a bit of an idiot -- all I remember about him is when they play a prank by adjusting his piano stool and he can't figure out how to get it back to normal height.

There isn't any overt queerness, given the time it was written, but several characters are described as "horsey" which I think may be code.
posted by basalganglia at 3:19 PM on October 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

Oh, there is also a long section in Elena Ferrante's The Story of a New Name (the second of the Neapolitan novels) covering the protagonist's experience in college. If you're after clubby atmosphere, cloistered life, etc., this book will not provide that (and the protagonist gets enmeshed with the wrong kind of guy). But they are amazing books in their own right, the central relationship is between two girls who grew up together, and they're very strong on trying to maintain an intellectual life as a woman in an extremely sexist society.
posted by praemunire at 3:19 PM on October 7, 2019

warrior-nunnery on a colony planet: Red Sister. May not be a close match with what you're looking for.
posted by sebastienbailard at 3:25 PM on October 7, 2019

If you can find a copy of Life With Mother Superior, it’s great. If not, the movie version, The Trouble With Angels is also fun.
posted by elphaba at 3:30 PM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I just finished Juliet the Maniac which is largely set in an alternative boarding school. Thumbs up.
posted by rdnnyc at 3:42 PM on October 7, 2019

The Prime of Miss Jean Brody--no explicit queerness, and there's definitely a focus on pubescent girls trying to figure out sex in a very theoretical way, but it's very much about relationships between women. The ending is neither happy nor devastating.

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. The "romance" is definitely het, but it is in no way a love story. Girl power and all.
posted by gideonfrog at 3:51 PM on October 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

Old and thus utterly lacking in queerness of any overt form, but extremely charming: What Katie Did at School, by Susan Coolidge. Bonus: Old enough to be out of copyright and so you can read it for free on Project Gutenberg!
posted by DSime at 4:20 PM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Legally Blonde!
posted by yawper at 4:32 PM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Kindred Spirits on the Roof - girls love manga with a boarding school setting.

Futaribeya (A Room for Two) - girls love starting in high school, moving to college. First link goes to MangaDex, this is the official English release.

Kase-san and... starts in high school, and is now continuing in college. First two links go to MangaDex, this is the official English release.

If you're looking for girls love / lesbian stories and are interested in manga, the genre you're looking for is known as "yuri" or "shoujo ai." Dynasty Reader is the yuri motherlode (lots of content NSFW). The past few years have seen a surge in yuri manga being published in the west, and Seven Seas, one of the largest western manga/light novel publishers, carries a number of yuri titles.
posted by ralan at 4:35 PM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Miss Pym Disposes (1946) is a mystery set at a boarding college for young women studying to be physical education professionals, and it's very good. The degree to which it can be said to have a happy ending is debatable. I mean, it definitely doesn't have a happy ending, but you won't leave feeling devastated, and the setting is absolutely superb, fascinating, and rendered in loving detail. Men do appear occasionally but only very occasionally, in very minor roles. Queerness implicit only, but present.
posted by redfoxtail at 4:44 PM on October 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

'The Idiot' by Elif Batuman doesn't exactly fit all the requirements stated, but it's a very well written college coming of age story with a quirky plot that doesn't follow the conventional narratives of this sort, and worth reading.
posted by ovvl at 5:00 PM on October 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

Cynthia Voigt's Tell Me if the Lovers are Losers does not exactly have a happy ending (although I think you could say it was hopeful), but meets your criteria in most other ways, being set at a women's college around 1960. No het romance to speak of, and though she is not the protagonist, it does have your "Ms. Angsty McLeatherJacket and her Deep Dark Feelings" in spades. There is a surprising amount of queer subtext, although to what degree deliberate I'm not sure.
posted by huimangm at 5:14 PM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

'The Idiot' by Elif Batuman doesn't exactly fit all the requirements stated, but it's a very well written college coming of age story with a quirky plot that doesn't follow the conventional narratives of this sort, and worth reading.

I second this. There is a prominent straight romance/relationship, but it’s not overly dramatic or serious, it fits with the overall tone of the book, which is people sort of bumbling through the college experience.

Absolutely fantastic book.
posted by sallybrown at 5:45 PM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Just looked at my shelves, one more:

Hilary Mantel's An Experiment in Love, despite the title, is not a romance and it includes some of the best descriptions of suffering material deprivation while at school that I know of.
posted by praemunire at 6:01 PM on October 7, 2019

We're going way back... waaaaay back... to the Nancy Drew and Dana Girls books by Carolyn Keene (the Stratemeyer Syndicate). The Dana Girls series is mostly set in a boarding school.
Seconding The Trouble with Angels and Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows. More Hayley Mills high jinx occur at summer camp with The Parent Trap.
posted by TrishaU at 10:35 PM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Chalet School
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 3:09 AM on October 8, 2019

Graphic novel: On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden (FPP); queer main characters at boarding school together

Short story: The Resident in Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado has a queer main character at an artist's residency.

It is book number 7 in the series (and I don't have a sense of how it would read without the previous 6 books), but As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust in the Flavia De Luce mystery series is set at Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy: a Canadian boarding school. The main character, Flavia, is a precocious 11-year-old chemist and mystery solver. The series overall has side romances with other characters, but I don't recall them being even a c-plot in this particular book.
posted by carrioncomfort at 6:45 AM on October 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Not contemporary and not the happiest, but I think Thérèse et Isabelle hits enough of your other marks to be worth mentioning.
posted by dizziest at 6:46 AM on October 8, 2019

SuperMutant Magic Academy (goodreads) by Jillian Tamaki is ostensibly YA, but I enjoyed it, and I dislike YA normally. It fits your criteria - can't remember POV though.
posted by plant or animal at 8:10 AM on October 8, 2019

The Daring Game by Kit Pearson. Coming of age story set in a girls' boarding school.
posted by Rora at 8:16 AM on October 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang by Joyce Carol Oates may fit the bill. It isn't set in a boarding school, but is about a group of girls at school, and has queer overtones. Definitely focuses on relationships between women, and no het romance that I recall. The ending wasn't particularly happy though.
posted by valoius at 11:55 AM on October 8, 2019

Movies: "Cracks" and "Wild Child"
posted by cass at 1:56 PM on October 8, 2019

Seconding The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks!
posted by tangosnail at 2:25 PM on October 8, 2019

Her Royal Highness.
posted by mollywas at 3:19 PM on October 8, 2019

This recommendation is:

* A Young Adult book (protagonist is age 8)
* Not contemporary (published in 1960)
* Sexually subtle (see above bullet points)

However, when I read your Requirements & Likes I immediately thought of this:

The Secret Language, by Ursula Nordstrom.

As a child I recognized the attraction and tension between the protagonist and her friend, and the depth of portrayal still impresses me.

It's also worth pointing out Nordstrom's publishing highlights. I also ran across this review while searching.
posted by 1367 at 6:22 PM on October 8, 2019 [2 favorites]

The Murder Most Unladylike series by Robin Stevens (Genre: middle grade to YA)

"Friendship, boarding school and a murder worthy of Agatha Christie." (The Bookseller)
posted by pimli at 1:06 AM on October 9, 2019

Down a Dark Hall (and many others) by Lois Duncan is creepy female based teen gothic fun.
posted by Duffington at 2:57 PM on October 9, 2019

A little out of the box, but I recommend the Netflix show GLOW. The first season the women learn how to work together and live in close quarters. Queer characters
posted by natasha_k at 8:21 AM on October 10, 2019

If comics are okay then I recommend Gotham Academy.
posted by Quonab at 8:47 AM on October 11, 2019

« Older Best Helios/Jupiter/Vintage Lens for filming??   |   Good and concise blogs / news sites about... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments