A Little Princess — Frances Hodgson Burnett (1905) You may have seen Shirley Temple’s sanitized film adaptation, but have you read Frances Hodgson Burnett’s original story of Sara Crewe, a spunky rich girl sent to boarding school in London? The tale turns tragic when her beloved father dies in India and Sara, having lost her fortune, instantly transitions from student to servant. Thankfully, a mean headmistress and a wardrobe of rags can’t keep a sweet, imaginative girl down for long.
A Separate Peace — John Knowles (1959) A bromance for the ages, A Separate Peace centered around the friendship of boarding school roommates Gene and Phineas. While the former is something of a nebbish, the latter is charismatic, mischievous, and athletic. Of course, Gene can’t help but feel competitive… and that’s when the real trouble starts. If you sense a homoerotic undercurrent here, well, we won’t argue with you.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie — Muriel Spark (1961) Muriel Spark’s short novel, told out of order in a series of flashbacks, follows an iconoclastic Scottish prep-school teacher and a group of six girls who become her protégés. Relationships strain as the talented young women come of age, and Miss Brodie’s complicated romantic life becomes more apparent.
Prep — Curtis Sittenfeld (2005) There is something uncanny about the way Curtis Sittenfeld — who both attended and taught at prep schools — recreates contemporary, New England boarding-school life. Through the eyes of protagonist Lee Fiora, a shy cipher from the sticks, we witness all four years of work, sex, friendship, and class consciousness at a school brought to life in astounding detail.
Restless Virgins: Love, Sex, and Survival at a New England Prep School — Abigail Jones and Marisa Miley (2007) Written by a duo of Milton Academy grads, Restless Virgins is the true story of the way seven of the boarding school’s students spent a year (2004-2005) that saw the school mired in a sex scandal that made national news. For those who aren’t acquainted with the excesses of prep-school living, their drug-fueled sexcapades may make your head spin.
The Facts of Life (1979-1988) In this wildly successful Diff’rent Strokes spin-off, Edna Garrett is the housemother to a gaggle of girls at Eastland, a single-sex boarding school in Westchester. The main characters included a range of types, from spunky Tootie to tough tomboy Jo to, um, chubby (we’re not being jerks — just pretty sure that was the defining bit of her personality) Natalie to spoiled Blair. (Anyone else out there wondering whether Blair Waldorf is her namesake?) Not nearly as sordid as most contemporary prep-school sagas, The Facts of Life is good, clean, often cheesy fun.
USA High (1997-1999) Created by the folks responsible for Saved by the Bell, this oft-forgotten USA series was set at an American boarding school in Paris where — scandal! — the international group of boys and girls lived in adjacent quarters connected by a common room. Hilarity ensued.
Rich Girls (2003-2004) Rich Girls, an MTV reality series that debuted right as the most recent vogue for rich teenagers began to pick up steam, starred Ally Hilfiger (yup, that Hilfiger) and her BFF Jaime Gleicher, a spoiled duo who attended Manhattan’s Professional Children’s School. They didn’t do much on the show, besides shop, engineer their social lives, and plan vague and naïve charity projects. The show didn’t make it past a single season, and Hilfiger was so disgusted by her behavior on the series that she checked herself into rehab.
Hex (2004-2005) Harry Potter fans who haven’t seen the British series Hex are in for a treat. The show takes place in the English countryside, at a boarding school that also happens to be a clearinghouse for supernatural activity. The combination of setting, subject matter, and socially marginalized female heroine remind us of Harry crossed with Buffy. (The opening credits below certainly owe something to Joss Whedon…)
NYC Prep (2009-present) An obvious, Real Housewives-style reality show Gossip Girl rip-off, NYC Prep was a similarly fascinating trainwreck of the famous and well-connected. The series had its lothario, its shrew, its crypto-gay, and no shortage of schemers — but, unfortunately, none of these real kids were as smart or magnetic as Blair and Chuck. Apparently, the series was such a success that LA Prep and NJ Prep are currently in production. Hey, if WASP teens and guido gorilla juicehead make for good TV on their own, who knows what can happen when they’re finally together!