Private School Confidential | SLJ Spotlight on YA

Five gripping teen tales expose the darker sides of prep school.
From magical fantasies to nail-biting thrillers, these prep school dramas offer a little bit everything for fans. Marieke Nijkamp’s sophomore novel is another heartrending tale and Mechthild Gläser’s follow-up to The Book Jumper will delight fans of Jane Austen and Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart. But if teens gravitate toward the more dark and unsettling depictions of private schools, then Kiersi Burkhart, Laurie Devore, and Dana Mele’s books might be the perfect fit.

Burkhart, Kiersi. Honor Code. 320p. Lerner/Carolrhoda. Mar. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781512429961.

Gr 9 Up –When Sam’s family drops her off at Edwards Academy, a pricey and exclusive boarding school that could be her ticket to the Ivies, she never expects to be hazed and humiliated with all the other first years in their house by Hayden, the Head Girl, and her posse of prefects. Equally surprising is Hayden’s gift: she matches Sam up for the fall mixer with fourth-year Scully Chapman, captain of the polo team. The misery of being new while trying to fit in and be accepted is tempered by Sam’s wonderful roommate Grace, who chums around with her and to whom she can complain about the enormous academic workload. Being seen on Scully’s arm elates Sam until Grace’s hurt feelings and frustrated crush on him create a rift between the girls. Bad to worse: a tutoring session behind closed doors with Scully leaves Sam with ripped clothing and an urge for justice against a sexual predator protected by the elite and venerable institution’s honor code. Made up of anonymous Tumblr posts, first-person narration from Sam, and third-person narration from Harper, a rookie reporter from The New York Inspector, this engrossing story is broken into pre- and postattack sections. VERDICT A book to recommend to readers who enjoy relevant gritty issues and don’t mind relishing a somewhat predictable plot twist.–Suzanne Gordon, Lanier High School, Sugar Hill, GA

Devore, Laurie. Winner Take All. 336p. Imprint. Jan. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781250082886.

Gr 10 Up –Nell Becker always plays to win, no matter what the competition. She’s determined to prove her right to attend Cedar Woods Preparatory Academy by outperforming the best and brightest, not to mention wealthiest, of the student body. If her mother wasn’t headmaster, her family could never have afforded to send her to the exclusive school. Her mother is a role model who never misses an opportunity to remind Nell of her high expectations.. Trailing Nell by a tenth of a grade point is her chief competition for valedictorian, Jackson Hart. Despite his imperious attitude, Jackson’s wealth and striking good looks have earned him a place as every teacher’s pet. Nell could swear she’s never seen him crack open a textbook. He has become an obsession for her; the ease with which he aces every test, the never-ending train of girls who fall for his lies, the way he constantly baits her with arguments she can’t possibly win. There is no passion greater than her hatred for Jackson Hart—until Jackson begins to unexpectedly confide in her, and that passion takes a 180-degree turn. Devore has written her protagonist as driven, selfish, and, at times, totally despicable. Jackson, by contrast, seems the more affable character. But, a clever plot twist reveals just how quick we are to judge the behavior of girls more harshly than that of boys. VERDICT With an unsettling heroine who will challenge readers’ perceptions of strong, competitive female characters, this is a winning choice for YA collections.–Cary Frostick, formerly at Mary Riley Styles Public Library, Falls Church, VA

Gläser, Mechthild. The Forgotten Book. 336p. Feiwel & Friends. Jan. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781250146793.

Gr 7 Up –Emma attends Stolzenberg Academy, one of the most prestigious boarding schools in the world, but only because her father’s the headmaster. After she returns from an awful vacation with her mother and her mother’s new boyfriend, Emma discovers a book that makes everything go her way at school. But there’s a dangerous element to it as well, and she must figure out a years-old mystery before it consumes her. When new boy Darcy de Winter arrives, ostensibly on a vacation around Europe, Emma is immediately suspicious, especially after Darcy locks her out of the castle library where she discovered the book. But once she realizes his connection to the mystery, they must team up to solve the case. A clever book with winks at Jane Austen novels, this boarding school story will also delight fantasy fans. Gläser is a strong writer, and the characters are likable, although the secondary characters tend to be less well rounded. The dialogue can be stilted and the novel’s Austen homages make the ending predictable, but it is still a solid purchase. VERDICT A strong choice for those who are too young for Libba Bray’s “Gemma Doyle” trilogy.–Stacey Shapiro, Tenafly Public Library, NJ

Mele, Dana. People Like Us. 384p. Putnam. Feb. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781524741709.

Gr 9 Up –Steeped in scandal and profound tragedy, this is a dark and thrilling look at female friendships, the pressures of scholastic success, and mental health. Daring, popular, and athletic, Kay is well on her way to achieving her dreams and securing the best that life has to offer at the prestigious Bates Academy, despite her family’s financial situation and lack of pedigree. Then a student turns up dead in the lake, cutting to the core of the school and Kay’s friend group. A sinisterly mysterious mastermind begins pulling Kay’s strings and setting her up as the murderer. Kay must carefully solve the puzzles while risking what she’s worked so hard to achieve before time runs out, her past is revealed, and all is lost forever. A classic and frightening tale of betrayal and mental illness told in a fresh and contemporary way, this book is difficult to set down for even a moment. It is an intricately designed, beautifully written, and extraordinarily chilling story. VERDICT Recommended for fans of psychological thrillers and mysteries who want to be riveted until the very end.–Emily Grace Le May, Williams School, New London, CT

Nijkamp, Marieke. Before I Let Go. 368p. Sourcebooks/Fire. Jan. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781492642282. POP

Gr 9 Up –Corey left Lost Creek for boarding school as her mother relocated outside of Alaska. She hated leaving her best friend behind. Kyra’s bipolar disorder kept her from being accepted by the small community. Corey found a place of belonging at her new school, so much so that she stopped answering Kyra’s letters. When she learns that Kyra killed herself, she flies back to Lost Creek to learn more about Kyra’s death. Corey refuses to believe her friend would take her own life. The community doesn’t speak to her. Stunned that everyone treats her as an outsider now, she digs for the truth. This sophomore novel from Nijkamp will haunt readers. The Alaskan weather mimics the frostiness from the residents beautifully. The time line of the book alternates among the aftermath of Kyra’s death, letters Kyra sent to Corey, and moments between the friends before Corey left. Nijkamp writes about the highs and lows of the mental illness and how even the best-intentioned people can do harm. The cruelty of the town’s people will stay with readers long after they close the book. The honest reflection of mental illness, suicide, friendship, and being an outsider provides ample topics for book discussion. VERDICT Recommended for teens who enjoy haunting tales and are fans of Nijkamp’s This Is Where It Ends.–Jennifer Rummel, Cragin Library, Colchester, CT

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