05/22/2012 09:44 am ET Updated Jul 22, 2012

9 Fantastic Prep School Novels

As a teenager, I attended what's known in affluent power circles as a "progressive" prep school: a place where students call teachers by their first names; where you can sprawl out on the (carpeted) floors during lunch because there isn't a cafeteria; and where, if you come to school in your bra, people will roll their eyes, but nobody will make you put on a shirt.

I always boasted about attending a school where creativity and independent thought were encouraged, but I was secretly obsessed with the other kind--those preparatory schools of Dead Poets' Society fame where tradition always trumps change and where the geeky, intellectual outsiders are locked in epic struggle with the athletic, popular, and cruel. Of course, it's always more complicated than this. In my own prep school novel, The Year of the Gadfly, the school's social underclass has its own hierarchy and exhibits its own treachery and desire for power.

I've now read 26 school novels and counting. My favorites depict adolescence at its most obsessive and raw. The young protagonists are often gravely misguided, but they struggle with a singular passion we don't often feel as adults. The following nine books were influences for The Year of the Gadfly [Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24.00] and are some of my favorites.

Prep school novels