Back to school season is here, and with it the death of summer, sleeping in, and lazy afternoons spent reading the nonrequired books of your choice. It’s enough to make you forget all the amazing things about going back to school: learning a new routine, filling up the first pages of all those pristine notebooks, figuring out which one of your teachers might actually be possessed by a demon—the list goes on. So once you’re done buying the exact right type of highlighter for your picky English teacher, get in the back-to-school spirit with one of these reads.
What to Say Next, by Julie Buxbaum
Kit has never had trouble making friends, but when her dad dies in a car accident, her old group just can’t relate to her anymore. So she avoids her usual her lunch table and sits with David, a loner by circumstance since his high-functioning autism keeps most people at bay. His blunt honesty makes him the only person Kit doesn’t shut out, and before long she asks him to help her learn more about her father’s accident. The funny dialogue and sweet romance will have you rethinking your cafeteria seating in no time.
It’s Not Like It’s a Secret, by Misa Sugiura
When her family moves from Wisconsin to California, Sana goes from being the only Asian girl at a white-dominated high school to being surrounded by a diverse mix of students. She falls into a clique of fellow Asian girls, but quickly finds herself keeping secrets from her new friends: her father is probably having an affair, she likes girls, she’s actually dating her Latina crush-turned-girlfriend Jaime. Dating Jaime isn’t easy—Sana hasn’t exactly told her mother she’s a lesbian, and she keeps insulting Jaime’s friends with her racial stereotypes. Then there’s Caleb, the guy her friends insist she should date. Every new school year comes with mistakes, and Sana makes plenty of them. But as everything comes to a head, she has no choice but to come clean.
Little Monsters, by Kara Thomas
If you prefer your back-to-school season with a little thrill and mystery, try Kara Thomas’ Little Monsters. When Kacey moves across the country to live with the father she’s never met, she’s relieved to find friends in Bailey and Jade. Everything is fine, until the girls’ attempt at a seance goes wrong, and suddenly Kacey is on the outside again. Then Bailey disappears, and new-in-town Kacey quickly becomes the chief suspect. As Kacey investigates the mystery on her own, she discovers more and more about Bailey’s toxic brand of friendship, until it seems like almost anyone might have wanted her gone.
The Backstagers, by James Tynion IV and Rian Sygh
Or you could opt for an entirely different new-kid read: The Backstagers. Jory needs to join an after-school activity at his new high school, and the only group that welcomes him with open arms is the drama club’s stage crew. The actors might get all the credit, but backstage is where the magic is—or at least the bizarre. With his new friends, Jory is introduced to the maze of tunnels and interchanging rooms that make up the underworld beneath the school, full of strange creatures and mysterious objects. I dare you to read this heartwarming adventure and not want to start exploring the depths of your school.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart
Frankie is tired of being underestimated by the men in her life, from her father, who still calls her bunny rabbit, to her boyfriend, who won’t let her in on their boarding school’s secret society. So she takes matters into her own hands, faking her way to the top of the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds. Unbeknownst to its all-male members (including her now-ex boyfriend), Frankie sends the society on a series of pranks, hoping they’ll eventually recognize her genius. I will never get tired of recommending this book; its hilarious hijinks and insistent girl-power make it a feminist must-read.
Carry On, by Rainbow Rowell
Simon Snow is headed back to his final year at Watford School of Magicks, and it’s bittersweet. On the one hand, he can’t wait to get away from his probably evil and annoyingly handsome roommate, Baz. On the other hand, he loves Watford: the dumb uniform, his friend Penny, the spells, and especially the food. But when Baz never shows up and the Insidious Humdrum keeps destroying magic, Simon has to attempt to harness his spotty-at-best powers and confront his very inconvenient crush—all to save the world, of course. I’ll be honest, Simon doesn’t actually get to spend that much time at school before facing his demons (literally), but his list of things he loves about Watford gets me daydreaming about waiting for the bus every time.
The Authentics, by Abdi Nazemian
Daria prides herself on being true to her Iranian American roots; she and her friends even call themselves the Authentics. So when her English teacher assigns a family heritage project, Daria can’t wait to show hers off. But then a DNA test reveals Daria isn’t nearly as Iranian as she thought she was, and her whole world is thrown off balance. Suddenly, she’s not just juggling her friends’ drama, her upcoming sweet sixteen birthday party, her growing family, and her problematic crush. She’s also trying to figure out who she is, and how that affects her status as an Authentic.