Back-to-school season is always a little bit bonkers. You have to figure out your new schedule, get back on the homework wagon, and set that alarm for so early. There are buses or rides to straighten out, new teachers to learn, and a need to balance home and school life. And did I mention the early alarm? Because it’s early.
During this time, I always like to read books about people going back to school, too. It’s nice to read a story at a different school, with different people. It helps get me out of my head and my chaotic first weeks of readjusting. Seeing how fictional characters handle different situations gives me an idea of what students might be experiencing. On the other hand, reading something so completely opposite to my life helps me escape my own back-to-school blues. I may not like how early school starts, but at least my principal hasn’t been murdered, I don’t have a crush on my off-limits tutor, a ghost isn’t silently following me around school, and I didn’t travel back in time. It really puts things in perspective.
In this list, you’ll find both realistic and over-the-top plots, depending on what you’re in the mood for. I hope that these titles make it on your to-be-read list and that you can find a little time to squeeze in some reading for pleasure.
Dear Martin by Nic Stone
Justyce McAllister is caught between two worlds: the preppy private school he goes to and the rough neighborhood where he grew up. He’s the top of his class, which doesn’t matter at all when a cop handcuffs him for something he didn’t do. Justyce is trying to understand what happened and starts writing letters in his journal to Dr. Martin Luther King to process his feelings. Teens who feel like they live in a liminal space between school life and home life will find something to relate to here.
You Asked for Perfect by Laura Silverman
Students who have felt the pressure of looming college admissions while also wanting to have a life will relate to this one. Perfectionist Ariel Stone is willing to do whatever it takes to get into a good college. He’ll pull all-nighters, volunteer in the community, practice violin until he gets first chair, and clinch the valedictorian spot. When he fails a calculus quiz, he doesn’t want to hire a tutor — much less Amir, whom he has never liked — but admits it’s the best way to bring up his grade. The more time they spend together, the more he likes Amir. Adding a relationship to his already lengthy to-do list probably isn’t smart.
Throwback by Maurene Goo
Samantha Kang doesn’t get along with her mother. They fundamentally disagree about how the high school experience should be handled. When they get in a big fight, Samantha takes a rideshare back in time to the ‘90s, where her mom isn’t mom but 17-year-old Pricilla. Now Gen Z Sam has Gen X problems. She only has a few days to fix the past so she and her mom can have a better present. This is an interesting look at how teens’ high school experience today fundamentally differed from their parents. It’s a great book to create empathy between the generations.
Promise Boys by Nick Brooks
There’s nothing like a thrilling whodunit to get the pages turning. This book will keep your attention during the first chaotic days of school. The principal at Urban Promise Prep school has been murdered, and J.B., Ramón, and Trey are the prime suspects. In order to clear their names, they must solve the case and stay alive in the process. The school looks pristine from the outside, but the secrets that lurk within are deadly.
Her Good Side by Rebekah Weatherspoon
Bethany Greene is a late bloomer but is determined to tell the boys she’s crushing on how she feels. When no dates come through for Homecoming, she agrees to go with her best friend’s boyfriend, Jacob. But they break up, and Jacob is suddenly available — perfect time to fake date to get the attention of her crush. The more time they spend together, the more their fake relationship turns into real feelings. An excellent example of communication and consent, this sweet love story is perfect for back-to-school.
Only Mostly Devastated by Sophie Gonzales
Will Tavares is Ollie’s perfect summer romance. When Ollie moves across the country and realizes he’ll be enrolling at the same school where Will goes, he’s ecstatic. But school-year Will is completely different from summer Will. He’s kind of a jerk and hasn’t come out. Ollie is ready to move on without him, but just as he starts to, Will shows up everywhere Ollie is, and his resolve weakens. Starting at a new school is hard, and so is navigating romantic relationships. This book tackles both back-to-school issues.
Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks
Maggie McKay is going to school outside home for the first time, and she’s starting in high school. Making new friends who aren’t her brothers is going to be hard. More than that, a melancholy ghost that has followed Maggie her whole life is coming to school with her. It’s a lot for a girl to navigate. This fun paranormal twist on a coming-of-age story is told in a graphic novel that illustrates what it’s like being an outsider at a new school.
Parachutes by Kelly Yang
Claire Wang is a parachute: a teenager dropped off in an American school while her wealthy parents stay home in Asia. She didn’t ask to be dropped here, and living with Dani De La Cruz isn’t what she imagined. The two mostly try to stay out of each other’s way, but when Dani gets in too deep with extra circulars, and Claire doesn’t have to answer to anyone for the first time in her life, things get complicated. Dealing with a new school and new country all-in-one, this novel focuses on friendship and speaking out about what’s right.