Beyond Admissions: The Campus Novel

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jeanne-blasberg-boston-book-festival-the-campus-novel-panel

I sat on a panel last weekend at the Boston Book Festival with three incredible authors of recent releases to discuss “The Campus Novel.” Long-held favorites in American literature, campus novels are set in academia with protagonists coming of age among a variety of pressures. Schools, after all, have long provided ripe settings in literature — think THE LORDS OF DISCIPLINE by Patrick Conroy. They are convenient microcosms, mysterious islands unto themselves with specific codes of conduct and traditions. If a writer’s primary objective is to ‘world-build,’ then campuses provide a great head start.

the-nine-campus-novel-by-jeanne-blasbergIn addition to my novel, THE NINE, the Boston Book Festival panel included CJ Farley with his novel AROUND HARVARD SQUARE, Mona Awad and BUNNY, and Elizabeth Ames who wrote THE OTHER’S GOLD. While THE NINE is set on a fictional boarding school campus, AROUND HARVARD SQUARE and THE OTHER’S GOLD are set on college campuses, and BUNNY portrays one young woman’s experience in an MFA program. Our moderator, Lisa Borders, kicked off the discussion with the ways we had each spun this recognizable genre, however, CJ Farley was quick to point out that the four novels, with regard to subject matter at least, were more similar than different.

the-others-gold-campus-novel-by-elizabeth-amesThere was head nodding on the stage. We were, he continued, all dwelling on the theme of exclusivity and groups — whether cliques of friends, societies (secret and otherwise). Our protagonists are disheartened as they meet continuous tests of acceptance inside their respective academic settings. And while our young heroes and heroines may have been conflicted about these groups at first, they ultimately wanted in. Whereas one (a parent for instance) may have assumed gaining admission to the likes of Harvard was success in itself, our characters are disheartened with the continuous tests of acceptance that are set out before them. BUNNY and THE OTHER’S GOLD are interesting in their deep dive into the world of female friendship and the intense bonds (for better or worse) that are created on campuses during early adulthood. After touching on the theme of acceptance, loyalty and betrayal were obvious follow-ups in all of our novels.

40 replies
  1. MonaG
    MonaG says:

    I actually seek out books set on campus. I enjoyed : The Sixes(Kate White), She Was the Quiet One(Michelle Campbell), and Prep(Curtis Sittenfeld). Thanks🙂

    Reply
  2. Susan L Craig
    Susan L Craig says:

    My favorite campus novel is old-school: Doctor Wortle’s School by Anthony Trollope. It is a little different from other Trollope novels in that it deals with issues that were shocking for the day.

    Reply
  3. Nicole Kopecky
    Nicole Kopecky says:

    I really love Donna Tartt’s novels, especially the Secret History, which I’m glad to see you mentioned! I also enjoyed Prep, which I believe was written by Curtis Sittenfeld.

    Reply
  4. Nina W.
    Nina W. says:

    I find it so interesting that although the panel featured authors that wrote about various subject matter, there were actually many similarities identified between the stories!

    Reply
  5. Lisa Dwyer
    Lisa Dwyer says:

    My favorite novel set at school is The Maximum Ride Series! I read the set then introduced it to my daughter. She told her school librarian about it and they ordered several copies. It became a huge hit!!

    Reply
  6. Yolanda
    Yolanda says:

    I just finished reading The Nine. My husband went to boarding school when he was a young boy so I love reading about this topic. I’m looking forward to reading The Expectations.

    Reply
  7. Elizabeth Vogl
    Elizabeth Vogl says:

    I never really knew that the campus novel was considered it’s own sub-genre, but it is definitely one that I am fond of. Two of my favorites include A Seperate Peace and Dead Poet’s Society. There is something so timeless that everyone can relate to those back-to-school moments and nerves

    Reply
  8. Elizabeth Vogl
    Elizabeth Vogl says:

    I never really knew that the campus novel was considered it’s own sub-genre, but it is definitely one that I am fond of. Two of my favorites include A Seperate Peace and Dead Poet’s Society. There is something so timeless that everyone can relate to those back-to-school moments and nerves.

    Reply
  9. Leigh Anne Armstrong
    Leigh Anne Armstrong says:

    My favorite campus novel has always been A Separate Peace, since my first reading in junior high. I have returned to it periodically and found subtleties that we’re unnoticed on previous readings. I’d love to try these, as my son-in-law is studying at Harvard Divinity and my son at UVA for grad school!

    Reply
    • jbadmin
      jbadmin says:

      I love rereading and finding new meaning in books. That’s actually something I discussed in my most recent blog post. And I love A Separate Peace too!

      Reply

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