Boarding schools are everywhere

glass bird

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?!

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2 thoughts on “Boarding schools are everywhere

  1. I always love a good boarding school read. Probably because boarding schools are not as popular or numerable here in America as in other countries, so it’s like taking a trip across the pond. Plus, school settings are always fun to read. I have an obsession with schedules so when MG or similar genres go willy-nilly out into the world with little organization, it drives me a tiny bit nuts. But if there is good organization outside of a school setting, I’m all for it. I’m thinking now of The Chronicles of Narnia series, which has very little to do with schools of any kind. But the rules and requirements of royalty in Narnia, along with the rules and requirements set forth by Aslan, lend the story structure and toss away my anxious need for a scheduled atmosphere.

    p.s. If biologists are the next theme, I’ll all for it. Science nerd, here!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. liowabrary says:

    That’s a really interesting take on it. Thanks for your comment! Now you’ve got me thinking about biologists, too, and that’s never a bad thing. Science nerds unite!


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