Books about going to uni?

A commenter on Scott’s blog, Liset, asked:

now that i’m in college i get a little disapointed with the YA selection,
it seems to be filled with IT girls, and all that other non-sense.
I want a book where the main character is just stepping into being an adult, not 15 or 16 but 18-21.
I think I’m in an age that is highly ignored,
I can vote and join the military but I can’t drink, go to a club (on most nights) and I can’t find a book that talks about the first years of college!
It’s insane too, because college is seriously the most interesting thing.

Anyone got any suggestions for Liset?

I immediately thought of Diana Peterfreund’s Secret Society Girl. I can think of books where the protag is in that age range—Peeps for example1—but not where uni is the focus. I know there are plenty of books where it is but my brain is sluggish this morning. Help me out, please!

  1. Though I happen to know Liset has read that one. []


  1. Aislinn on #

    I definitely recommend Tam Lin, by Pamela Dean

  2. CAAF on #

    Not a YA book in the strict sense (?) but I really loved Donna Tartt’s The Secret History when I was that age (and now!). A group of kids in college, a murder is committed: very Gothic & marvelous.

  3. Diana Peterfreund on #

    There are a few — not tons, as most YA pubs have a problem with college books.

    A brand new series out this week is called SORORITY 101, by Kate Harmon. The first book is called ZETA OR OMEGA? and the second is called THE NEW SISTERS. Do not let the cutesy title fool you. HTough it is about girls who choose to join sororities, it covers all the usual “first time college student” struggles. One of the characters is a Boston brahmin trying to escape her parents’ “plans” for her, another is stuck in her hometown college while she dreams of going to the big city, a third is dealing with nasty roommates, a demanding scholarship, and too many time commitments to the marching band…

    Another author who handles this period is Megan McCafferty. The third book in her “Sloppy Firsts” series, Charmed Thirds, deals with the protag going off to college.

    I’m sure I can think of more. πŸ˜‰

  4. Lawrence Schimel on #

    I second the rec of TAM LIN.

    I also really admire two university-set novels by May Sarton, THE SMALL ROOM and FAITHFUL ARE THE WOUNDS. Both are more from the perspective of young professors, but are very much about the student experience as well. Very complex and nuanced books about justice and what is “right” and bucking the status quo and etc.

  5. Jenny Davidson on #

    Yes, I actually bothered clicking through from my reader so that I could say “Tam Lin”! So that’s a clear certainty, I’d say…

    Some other thoughts: Robin McKinley’s “Sunshine” and “Spindle’s End” (not college per se, but right age group); Matt Ruff’s “Fool on the Hill” (great cult college novel); Emma Bull’s “War for the Oaks” (again, not college but right sort of age group), and novels of Charles de Lint also sort of fit this. I see my rec’s are skewing very fantasy, perhaps that’s just what I happen to read. Another thought is sort of coming-of-age novels in the mode of literary adult fiction: Jonathan Lethem’s “The Fortress of Solitude”? And I MUST also recommend , in particular, one of the best novels I’ve read recently: Martin Millar’s “Lonely Werewolf Girl,” which has several VERY plausibly rendered university students as character!

  6. Jennifer, aka literaticat on #

    LONG MAY SHE REIGN by Ellen Emerson White.

    Meg Powers is the president’s daughter. She was kidnapped and brutalized in her senior year of high school. Now she’s back in the white house and wants desperately to have a normal first year of college — but her old demons are hard to shake. This book is both terrific exploration of post-traumatic drama and a great first-year-of-college book. And it is long, but I personally ADORE Meg and didn’t want it to end.

  7. Haddy on #

    if you read more high fantasy or scifi (im not sure if there is high scifi) then most of the things that normaly 18-21 yearolds in our sociaty go through wont happen. Like in Uglies no one goes to colage or voets so they dont acctuly have those experiances. Yeah so i dont have a specific book but just an idea might be to read high fantasy of scifi. πŸ™‚

  8. Alma Alexander on #

    Uh, not to split hairs here or anything, but the books with the 18-21 protagonists might JUST be shelved in the grown up section and not the YA which is why the original person might have been disappointed with the YA selection that she found. We may or may not agree on the point where a YA becomes an A (at least for the purposes of shelving literature) but I strongly suspect that a 19-year-old or a 20-year-old would not consider themselves a YA any more and might end up waxing wroth over a suggestion that they might go play in the “kiddie section”. When you’re in college you’re effectively an adult, and you might dip into the YA pool (because there are still some damned good books in it) but your reading choices and your life are now in an adult instar. You may not like to think that you’ve pretty much left your childhood behind, but you have.

    Liset is right – 18-21 is an awkward age, full of you-may-this but you-emphatically-may-not the other – but what it is, is mostly a waiting game now. For all intents and purposes you ARE an adult. And “first year of college” books are not a special YA imprint. The college years are dealt with in plenty of “grown up” books which may not deal SOLELY about the “first year in college” – but that isn’t because that isn’t interesting or valid or valuable but simply because college is not a boarding school and it is tangled up into all kinds of real-world grown up choices. It is not a destination; it is, in fact, when you start becoming aware that life isn’t a series of finite journeys which have definite end-stations but rather an on-going ride on trains planes and automobiles which often leaves you kicking your heels in some waiting room while the next conveyance arrives to take you onwards. But by 18 you have a driver’s licence. You can rent whatever car you choose.

  9. Laurie on #

    Yes to Tam Lin and Long May She Reign, both excellent. Two memoirs that come to mind: My Own Two Feet by Beverly Cleary and Ivy Days by Susan Allen Toth. They are set in the 1930s and 1950s, respectively, so college life was very different, but interesting.

    Alma Alexander, why don’t you suggest some titles of some of the many “grown-up” books you refer to? I think all of us read a mix of YA and adult books, so suggestions are surely welcomed.

  10. Nikki on #

    How about the Sweet Valley University series? I enjoyed the first one, College Girls, mainly for Elizabeth’s problems.

    Seconding The Secret History recommendation, too.

    Also (a bit tangential, but hey) The History Man, Lucky Jim, and Decline and Fall.

  11. Mary Elizabeth S. on #

    I enjoy books with characters in that age-range (18-21), seeing as I’m that age myself, but I can’t say I’ve ever been dissapointed in the YA section because the characters are younger than that. I’m not particularly interested in IT Girl type books, either, but I’ve never had any difficulty finding stuff more to my taste.

    Maybe there’s only so much you can expect. YA books are marketed to 12- to 18-year-olds, and publishers expect 19-year-olds to migrate over to the adult section. I haven’t, but that’s because I just love the YA books to bits, regardless of (and sometimes becasuse of) the characters’ ages.

    And you never know. Maybe as all these book-loving 15- and 16-year-olds grow into book-loving 19- and 20-year-olds, the YA genre will expand to include more books for that age group, too. Maybe you’ll even be the one to write them. (After all, isn’t that how the gap between children’s and adults’ books was filled in the first place?)

    Okay, okay, rant over…


  12. Patrick on #

    You know, there’s many books about zombies, but not many books FOR zombies. Can anyone recommend good books FOR zombies?

    err, not that I am a zombie, I’m just saying.

  13. Nicholas Waller on #

    Following up my previous comment, David Nicholls’ article* about his “Starter For Ten” and campus novels in general mentions Zadie Smith’s “On Beauty”, which might fit the bill.


  14. Nicholas Waller on #

    Ah. My previous comment seems not to have appeared. Anyway, I suggested Nicholls’ “Starter for Ten”, aka “A Question of Attraction” in the US, acc to Wikipedia*. It’s set in a British university in the 80s, but might suit.

    I have only seen the film adaptation, I must admit, but was alerted to it while browsing in a bookshop in Bristol when the author came in and signed some copies of his book on his way to a pre-release screening.


  15. Melissa on #

    I made this same suggestion on Scott’s blog, but “Bass Ackwards and Belly Up” (freshman year) and “Footfree and Fancyloose” (sophomore) are excellent YA about four best friends and their college (or not) experiences.

  16. little willow on #

    The Body of Evidence series by Christopher Golden and Rick Hautala – STRONGLY recommended! – ten books in all – start with Body Bags

    It’s Not About the Accent by Caridad Ferrer

    Shift by Jennifer Bradbury

    Wurst Case Scenario by Catherine Clark – freshman year, but note that this is a sequel to Truth or Dairy, when she’s a senior in high school

    Cupcake by Rachel Cohn – third in the CC trilogy, first Gingerbread, then Shrimp, then Cupcake

    Some of the Simon Pulse Romantic Comedies – – take place in college, others in high school

    This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen – the summer between high school and college

  17. Beth on #

    “Queen Cat, Carmel and St Jude Get a Life” by Maureen McCarthy, an Australian author, was one i really enjoyed.

    But you are right, there isn’t a whole lot of reading specifically about this age group.

  18. simmone on #

    I second The Secret History, also Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep and for a step-back-in-time, The Group by Mary McCarthy.Suburban Freak Show by Julia Lawrinson is set in a university sharehouse and Beasts by Joyce Carol Oates, about a first year art student, is short but brilliant.

  19. Herenya on #

    This makes me feel so much better because I’ve just started wondering this myself.
    My question is, (aside from St Jude, Queen Kat and Carmel, which I’ve read) how many books about Australian university students? Or perhaps, which countries are the things people are recommending set? I guess it’s that living where I only know what a sorority is because I looked it a up on wikipedia, I’m trying to find things which might be closer to what my own experience of uni is (although I’ll admit “stressed and sleep deprived student has too many essays to write” is not exactly riveting material.)

    I like to look in the YA section (aside from that I still read a lot of YA books) because the genres are thrown in together. I don’t have to decide whether I feel like browsing through fantasy or general fiction or whatever. Admittedly this isn’t the problem in libraries, but even then there is so much there that I don’t want to read – at the moment – that I find it hard to just… browse and find something which looks interesting…

  20. Sara on #

    Two quick recommendations… I am the Messenger by Markus Zusak (the protagonist isn’t in college, but is college age), and After Summer by Nick Earls (about the summer between high school and college).

    Oh, and Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan.

    And I have to agree about the lack of books for this age… at 23, I find I can still relate more to most YA protagonists than to those of adult novels!

  21. claire on #

    i agree with “the secret history.” good book.

    you might also try “a portrait of the artist as a young man,” which is written from the pov of the protag at each stage of his development from childhood through college, which is to say, that the writing matures along with the character.

  22. Aimee on #

    Definitely, On Beauty by Zadie Smith. Adult novel but the focus is on Zora and Jerome, both college students, (amongst other characters) as well as the older characters. Also, very funny, intelligent read.

  23. Electric Landlady on #

    Daddy-Long-Legs, by Jean Webster. It’s getting on for 100 years old now, and Judy’s college experiences don’t bear all that much resemblance to today’s, but there are some, and it’s a great book.

    Tam Lin, obviously. πŸ˜‰

    A College of Magics, by Caroline Stevermer.

    Cold Comfort Farm, by Stella Gibbons, isn’t about college, but the heroine is 21 and it’s a lot of fun and the first year of university is where I learned to love it, so I throw it in here.

  24. Liset on #

    oh my goodness!
    I feel so SPECIAL!!! (not to be confused with Scott’s specials, I’m not tall at all)

    First of all, Thank you everyone! I am writing all of these titles down, and once I finally find a job, I will buy them! haha

    Second, I REFUSE to grow-up! Not really, but I don’t feel ADULT. I do after all live in a dorm with hundreds of other students, it’s like summer camp, not REAL life!

    Anyways, as mary elizabeth said, I’ll just have to go write the great college american novel. s.e. hinton is afterall my favorite writer…!

    thanks again, everyone!

  25. emily beth on #

    Liset – definitely i second Naomi and Eli’s No-Kiss list (as reccomended by Sara, above)

    Also, does summer before college count? Because I know a lot of those.

    And, the last book of the series about Cyd Charrise (by Rachel Cohn), called Cupcake, is after she graduates from high school (though she’s not technically in college . . .)

  26. rama on #

    Spirits that Walk in Shadow by Nina Kiriki Hoffman (it is a companion novel, though).

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