Instead of the thrill of meeting friends and professors in a bustling, energised campus, going back to school only involves a computer this September. We miss the campus, don't we? Perhaps these five books, each portraying student life from school to university, can let us live vicariously while we attend classes from home.
R J Palacio
10-year-old Auggie is about to start 5th grade. Being born with a facial disfigurement, he has been home schooled his entire life. But his first encounter with children his own age involves taunts and bullying, but also, eventually, kindness. The book starts out from Auggie's point of view before switching to that of his classmates, and this is what makes the storytelling so poignant. It etches the portrait of a community grappling with difference, and the compassion that requires. At the same time, the novel investigates the roles of status and popularity in a school setting, where children are often driven by an impulse to bully.
Nitu ar tar bondhura
(Anupam Prokashoni, 2006)
Muhammed Zafar Iqbal
Nitu finds herself trapped in an oppressive boarding school. Set within an eerie school campus, Iqbal's narrative explores the issues of freedom of speech, self-expression, and totalitarianism, as Nitu and her gang grow from confused little children to assertive rebels, in their quest to uncover secrets about their tyrannical headmistress and a missing school teacher. The book might seem best suited for school-age readers, but for those of us still kids at heart, Nitu Ar Tar Bondhura packs more than enough nostalgia and whackiness to satiate anyone who loves school campuses.
Selin, a Turkish-American freshman, has just arrived at Harvard University. Beginning college life in the mid-1990s, she discovers the internet and wants to know what books really "mean"; she observes how each person reacts differently when faced with a language they don't understand, and how she herself is shaped by her native English and Turkish.
More than Batuman's plot and characters, The Idiot is memorable for Selin's perception of classic elements of university life—books, pastries, conversations with strangers—all filtered through a fascination with language, ideas, and the uncertainties of being a newly minted young adult.
THE SECRET HISTORY
"The snow in the mountain was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks…". So begins The Secret History, rife with all the juicy elements of a creepy campus novel: A murder mystery. Hedonism, inspired by an obsession with classical Greece. A brilliant, venerated professor. And a secluded, selective liberal arts college in Vermont, based on the real life Bennington College where author Tartt attended along with Bret Easton Ellis and other literary enigmas. All of this, narrated unreliably in a Nick Carraway-esque fashion, are what make Tartt's book coil tight with tension even as the secret is revealed in the very first page.
(Penguin Books, 2005)
This one is for the teachers—the academics, researchers, and their families who reside on college campuses—rich with a diversity of voices, cultures, and feuding ideologies. The Belseys have just moved into a Massachusetts college town and the father, a white left-wing English Remrandt scholar, is at loggerheads with Sir Monty Kipps, a West Indian intellectual with conservative views. As they spar over art, religion, and multiculturalism, their young adult children brew their own mix of shifting ideologies, picking and choosing from the rival side. The result is a moving portrayal of family life, so often intimate yet inevitably porous.