I live in Iowa, noted for its sweet corn, political theater, and bike ride across the state (RAGBRAI) this time of year. We have many charms, but a long list of boarding schools is not one of them. Suddenly, though, boarding schools are popping up left and right in my stack of books.
I just finished The Girl with the Glass Bird (Esme Kerr), a suspenseful story of an orphan spy who’s supposed to check up on a possibly mad Russian princess at a remote boarding school and then finds out a whole host of confusing things about her own past. And it was a good read, although it seemed to want to be historical fiction and wasn’t. I didn’t realize it was taking place in modern times until it was mentioned that cell phones were not allowed at the school a few chapters in. Or maybe I just wasn’t reading closely up to that point? That’s entirely possible, too. Summer is kind of distracting.
Even as I was starting the book, I had the feeling I’d just finished something else with a similar setting. I thought back on what I’ve read in the last six months or so, and realized that boarding schools really HAVE been in a bunch of the books I’ve read, across a pretty wide range of quirky, dystopian, magical, steampunk, expat, pseudo-Victorian, middle grade, teen and even adult books. Here are just a few of them:
Ms. Rapscott’s Girls – Elise Primavera
Navigating Early – Clare Vanderpool
Murder is Bad Manners – Robin Stevens
Among the Barons – Margaret Haddix
Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone – J.K. Rowling
The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place – Julie Berry
Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms – Katherine Rundell
Curtsies & Conspiracies – Gail Carriger
As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust – Alan Bradley
The Secret Place – Tana French
Beyond the setting, they don’t seem to have all that much in common. Most have used the boarding school as way to throw the main character into an unfamiliar or challenging situation, but even that isn’t universal. It’s kind of fun to start thinking about all the differences and similarities, but it’s also fun to wonder what the next theme will be. Bakeries? Bicycles? Balloons? Biologists? Who knows?!