The Secret History by Donna Tartt. If not just to experience the pure beauty of Tartt’s prose, read this book to make sure you don’t end up like its characters. A group of Latin speaking, classics studying students spend their time in college using their exceptional intelligence to fulfill dangerous desires. The setting of this book, a quaint and idealistic elite college in Vermont, dotted with trips to the woods, helps to further the collegiate feel of Tartt’s debut novel.
Chocolates for Breakfast by Pamela Moore. Not many authors are successful in capturing the true character of an adolescent. Moore is an exception. Her protagonist, Courtney, is an accurate depiction of a young woman struggling with growing up, a sentiment that many college students can relate to. Reading Courtney’s story and knowing that, privileged or not, everyone experiences these emotions and states of anxiety. Perhaps the fact that Moore wrote this book as a teenager herself is what makes it stand out.
Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld. I suggest this book because undergrad dorms are the closets thing most people will get to experience boarding school. This novel is often compared to The Secret History but it has a bit more grit and realism to it. It’s a coming of age tale dealing with race and class, angst and adolescence. Although the main character, Lee, is a young naïve 14 year old on the first page, her transformation over the four years of prep school mirrors the transformation that most undergrads experience during their time at university.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz. The desire to succeed that the title character, Oscar, demonstrates will urge college students to work hard and be successful. Further, this book will introduce its readers to diverse backgrounds and cultural histories that are necessary to understand when one enters college, a melting pot of people from various ethnicities and social classes. College is an ideal time to read this novel and it’s safe to say that it is already listed on the syllabus of many Latin American Literature classes around the country.
The Group by Mary McCarthy. Although this novel follows the lives of Vassar graduates once they move on from college life, the story is wound around the bond they formed as undergrads. The book is smartly written and each sentence is filled with addicting wit. The girls that make up the titular group are extremely different and go on to lead various lives but all of them are equally intriguing. McCarthy pulls readers in with the girls’ well-crafted and clearly drawn lives. It is a literary glimpse into the future of your college friendships.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. Many college students dream of moving on to the big city upon graduation, much like the Plath’s main character, Esther, who moves to New York City to intern at a well known magazine. Unimpressed with the glamour and lux of Manhattan, Esther must return home and deal with her thoughts and anxieties. Dealing with the trappings of young adulthood, this book acknowledges the threshold of adulthood and sympathizes with the plight of those experiencing it.