Happy Back to School! 7 School Stories I Love for BTS

Over the last year and a half, I’ve read almost 70 books featuring tweens and teens as the main characters.

(I guess if you’re here reading the blog, you probably already knew that, though.)

Some ill-advised back-to-school fashion from my own elementary school days. Check out those jellies!

Some ill-advised back-to-school fashion from my own elementary school days. Check out those jellies!

As you might expect, this means that I’ve spent a lot of time getting reacquainted with the experience of being back in school — winding my way through crowded hallways between classes, trying to find the perfect seat in the cafeteria, and hoping to find the right friend group. It really is amazing how much life is lived in these school buildings, and the books I’ve read for the podcast have been a reminder of that for me!

With that in mind — and knowing how many students, parents, and teachers are smack in the middle of back to school season as I write this — I thought it would be fun to compile a few of the school stories that I’ve loved most in coming back to them for SSR! The titles below feature great teachers or school friends… or even just a generally awesome school vibe. I was always a big fan of school myself, so it’s really satisfying to see authors reflect that experience right back to me all these years later.

1. The Princess Diaries

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When I went to see the movie adaptation of The Princess Diaries when I was 11 (before I found my way to the book), I felt like I had never related to a character the way I related to Mia Thermopolis. Yes, she was a few years older than I was and yes, she lived with her mom in a funky converted fire station in San Francisco, but other than that, we were living the same life. Like Mia — and so many other girls in that age group — I felt uncomfortable in my own skin and unsure of how I was supposed to fit in at my school. While I don’t remember my first time reading the book quite as clearly as my first time seeing the movie, I can only imagine that it was a similar experience.

While I wasn’t crazy about Mia’s attitude toward some of her classmates when I reread The Princess Diaries for an early episode of the podcast, I did appreciate the way that author Meg Cabot described the ins and out of high school society. She does such an amazing job in this book of expressing the emotional highs and lows of being a teen, and she also drives home the importance of being able to set all of those distractions aside so you can focus on the people who really love you the most.

LISTEN: Episode 02

2. Matilda

Has there ever been a book that does more to put a love of reading and learning center stage? Personally, I can’t think of one!

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Weirdly, this was not a book that I was crazy about when I was a kid, but in coming back to it as an adult, I realized how cool it is that Roald Dahl made Matilda’s thirst for knowledge her primary — and perhaps most endearing — quality. Although Matilda’s parents try to conceal her smarts, they can’t hold her back! Her school is objectively terrible, but the special relationship that she builds with Miss Honey is proof that sometimes, all it takes to make a difference is one teacher!

LISTEN: Episode 03

3. Ella Enchanted

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Ella’s time at finishing school is actually a pretttttty small fraction of Ella Enchanted as a whole, but I can’t help but give a shoutout to any book that features a magical school setting like the one we see in this book. I always think it’s so interesting how teen and middle grade authors find unique ways to ground their characters in a fantasy world by plopping them into what may seem to many kid readers like the most mundane place in the world… school! Seeing the ways in which different fantasy authors imagine those schools is a super fun element of world-building.

LISTEN: Episode 12

4. Stargirl

So many YA books are about characters trying to find their way into the “norm” of high school culture. Stargirl is different. In the end, it’s about the title character’s journey to find her way out of that norm.

In order to get there, Stargirl does have to dabble with her fair share of conformity, but her grand entrance at the prom in the book’s final chapters is a reminder that she can never fully fit in with her classmates. And why would she want to? Stargirl is one of my favorite characters across all of my SSR reading. I’m so glad she found a way to be herself, and I like the way that author Jerry Spinelli shows her navigating that tension throughout the book.

LISTEN: Episode 26

5. Anastasia Krupnik

The vast majority of the first book in the Anastasia series takes place at home, but what strikes me most about the main character’s experience with school in this title is the way that her relationship with her teacher evolves over time and ultimately teaches her an important lesson about the value of staying open and giving people the benefit of the doubt. For much of the story, Anastasia is at odds with her teacher, largely because she doesn’t feel like her creativity is appreciated in the classroom (which I totally get!). At the end of the book, though, her teacher calls her house to check in after she finds out that Anastasia’s grandmother has passed away. Our main character realizes that she doesn’t actually hate her teacher, after all.

There’s also a fun scene in this book where Anastasia gets to go to class with her father, who is a college professor. I think it’s a fun little peek into higher education for younger readers!

LISTEN: Episode 46

6. The Perks of Being a Wallflower

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Although the main character in The Perks of Being a Wallflower is dealing with several challenging, unusual experiences, much of the high school society in which he finds himself is reminiscent of quintessential teen-dom. You’ve got the football games and the cool seniors and the parties and the quirky social norms and the crushes and the drama and so much more. You’ve also got a really impactful teacher who helps the main character navigate the tougher moments in and out of the classroom.

While I personally couldn’t relate to a lot of Charlie’s specific circumstances, I heard the echoes of my own high school experience in suburban Pennsylvania throughout this story. High nostalgia factor on this one!

LISTEN: Episode 55

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7. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

Has there ever been a school more fun to read about than Hogwarts? I’ll wait…

I already mentioned above my fascination with school settings in fantasy worlds, and J.K. Rowling is (clearly) a master of it.

LISTEN: Episode 60

What is your favorite school story from your childhood? Tell me in the comments below or on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook!

**Please note that the Amazon links above are affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you decide to make a purchase through these links. Please do not feel inclined to purchase unless you are excited to add these books to your TBR list!** 

Summer Reading Check-In

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but summer is almost half over. When did that happen?

I feel like it was just yesterday that I was complaining about having to wear a coat every day, and now I’m wishing that it was a little cooler so I could wear my denim jacket again. It always happens like that, and I hate it! I have all these thoughts about wanting to enjoy the seasons and then when they change and come to their most extremes, I just want the next one to come around. To be fair, summer in New York City is hard. Since we don’t tend to use cars on a regular basis, our options are either walking or the subway — neither of which is especially attractive when it’s humid and in the mid-nineties. Yuck!

But enough of my weather tirade… let’s talk about summer reading!

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Since we’ve reached the halfway point of the season, I thought it was about time that I do a little reflecting on my summer reading. This is hardly a hot take, but summer tends to be one of my favorite times of the year for digging into lots of books, for knocking titles off my TBR. Any time I get the opportunity to steal out of this icky NYC heat to a place where I can sit in the shade (or better yet, on a beach or near a pool), I somehow find myself powering through a few hundred pages in just a sitting or two. There’s nothing better than that!

So far this summer, I can’t say I’ve had that experience very much. Most of the travel we’ve had has been wedding-related, so there hasn’t been much time to spare with a book! There are a few trips planned for August, and I’m really hoping to squeeze in some of that hardcore reading time. I’m craving it!

All of this has been a kind of roundabout way to explain that my summer reading so far has been kind of… lame. My SSR recording schedule has been all over the map, too, so it’s been hard for me to find any consistency with reading “adult” books. That being said, there are a few titles that I’ve really loved! I’m not sure that I would call these typical “beach reads” (I have a few of those set aside for July and August!), but I would highly recommend them all.

This is hands-down my favorite book of the year so far (which you DEFINITELY already know if you follow me on bookstagram), and it was a great way to kick off my summer of reading. I think this is an important book for everyone to read. It gave me such an interesting perspective on the immigrant experience and the way it continues to affect families throughout multiple generations. The writing is also fantastic. Cannot recommend A Woman Is No Man enough!

I’ve been on a bit of a non-fiction kick lately, and I especially enjoyed this one. It’s full of wild stories about the specific ways in which social media has changed what it means to be a teenager in the U.S. Honestly, it’s pretty shocking. All of the reporting that Nancy Jo Sales did to write this book was impressive, and it made me want to read more non-fiction titles by investigative journalists and written like this. It reminded me a lot of Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities, which is one of my all-time favorite non-fiction reads.

I wouldn’t normally include an SSR title in a round-up like this (mostly because I’m trying to mix things up a little more here on the blog!), but I’m going to have to make an exception… because rereading this book was that. good. You’ll get to tune in to the podcast episode on which we discuss it next week (it drops 7/23), but in the meantime, I fully endorse it as an addition to your summer reading list. It’s a heavy read, for sure — even more than I remembered — but so beautiful and affecting.

Remember when I said I was on a non-fiction kick? Told ya so! My book club chose this as our July pick and I’m so glad we did, because I’m not sure I would have selected it for myself otherwise. One of my reading goals for 2019 was to diversify my reading — particularly in the non-fiction space — and it’s thanks to books like this that I’m picking up steam toward accomplishing it. I didn’t know much about the Theranos scandal before Bad Blood, but the book has made me excited to learn everything there is to know about it!

What’s the best book you’ve read so far this summer? Tell me all about your summer reading on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook!

**Please note that the Amazon links above are affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you decide to make a purchase through these links. Please do not feel inclined to purchase unless you are excited to add these books to your TBR list!** 

Three Love Stories for Three Years

I’m not quite sure why I thought it was a good idea to launch my podcast just two days after my wedding anniversary.

When I was in the planning stages of putting everything together for SSR, it didn’t occur to me that there would be quite so much to do in the final stretch before those first episodes went live. After all — I’d given myself plenty of time to get everything in order in the months before that day. It would be smooth sailing, right?

I can’t really say that it wasn’t smooth sailing — I’m a big planner, and I find that I can get almost anything organized as long as there’s notice — but I did find myself doing a lot of last-minute prep and promo while my husband Matt and I were on our second-anniversary trip to Mexico last year. As I scrambled to get the word out about SSR from our hotel room and ferociously highlighted portions of Nancy Drew from a hammock, I couldn’t help but laugh. Maybe my timing hadn’t been quite right. Oops!

While it all felt a little chaotic in the moment, I kind of love the fact that I get to celebrate the anniversary of my wedding and the anniversary of the podcast (my sweet little baby passion project!) within the same 48-hour period. And now, we get to add the anniversary of the blog to the mix! I have so much to be grateful for, especially in late June.

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Matt and I were married on June 24, 2016, just short of seven years after we started dating in the summer before sophomore year of college. We had our wedding in Pennsylvania, roughly an hour from where we grew up, and although our venue coordinator came to me just thirty minutes before the ceremony was scheduled to start to ask me if I was really sure that I wanted to move forward with the plan to be married outside (the sky was looking pretty dark!), the clouds cleared and we had exactly the day we wanted. I’m sure I’ll find plenty of ways to celebrate — maybe even embarrass — Matt in this space in the future, but for now, I’d like to celebrate our three-year milestone by sharing some of my favorite love stories with you. Is there any special moment that can’t be marked with BOOKS? Personally, I don’t think so.

Check out the titles below — one for each of the years we’ve been married — if you need a swoon!


The Time Traveler’s Wife

by Audrey Niffenegger

I read The Time Traveler’s Wife when I was in college and it TOTALLY captured me. At the time, I wasn’t reading a ton of books outside of what I was assigned in school, and I have such vivid memories of tearing through this one and being reminded of just how much I love fiction. It’s been long enough now that I can’t say I remember all the details of the plot, but it remains close to my heart and is absolutely among my favorite love stories. (For what it’s worth, I did not dig the movie adaptation. Such a bummer.)

One Day in December

by Josie Silver

When I picked up One Day in December a few days after Christmas last year, it was — at least in part — a case of “bookstagram made me do it.” But it ended up being so much more than that! I read Jack and Laurie’s story in just a handful of sittings, and I think it’s probably one that I’ll come back to every few years. More than any other book I’ve ever read, it gave me serious rom com vibes… and I mean that in a good way!

Tuesday Nights in 1980

by Molly Prentiss

As far as I’m concerned, this is one of the most underrated books out there. It’s easily my favorite read of the last few years. The love story doesn’t necessarily have a happy, shiny ending, but I really enjoyed the gritty New York City romance. Whether you read this for the love or something else… JUST READ IT!

What are your favorite love stories??? Share them with me in the comments below or on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook!

**Please note that the Amazon links above are affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you decide to make a purchase through these links. Please do not feel inclined to purchase unless you are excited to add these books to your TBR list!**