Dark Academia: Where School Isn’t Exactly What It Seems

A current popular trend in literature is the sub-genre of “dark academia.” The definition itself is a little vague — some describe it as an aesthetic, with images of students wearing tweed blazers during fall, walking around an old academic institution; others suggest that dark academia books are ones that feature an academic setting (often high school, boarding school, or college) and some kind of dark twist; and others say it focuses on the pursuit of knowledge and the exploration of mortality and death. Some say it’s all three of those things! It’s a sub-genre that is not limited to a specific genre; it’s been included in realistic fiction, fantasy, horror, dystopian, and much more.

For this month, we’ve put together a list of books that fall in many genres, all with a dark academia twist. You’ll find realistic fiction, fantasy, horror, urban fantasy, dystopian, and even a picture book!

Àbíké-Íyímídé, Faridah
Ace of Spades. 2021 (Teen).
Welcome to Niveus Private Academy, where money paves the hallways, and the students are never less than perfect. Until now. Because anonymous texter, Ace, is bringing two students’ dark secrets to light. Talented musician Devon buries himself in rehearsals, but he can’t escape the spotlight when his private photos go public. Head girl Chiamaka isn’t afraid to get what she wants, but soon everyone will know the price she has paid for power. Someone is out to get them both. Someone who holds all the aces. And they’re planning much more than a high school game…
S. Ab57ac

Chainani, Soman
The School for Good and Evil. 2013 (Middle Grade).
The first kidnappings happened two hundred years before and have happened every year since. At first, it seemed random, but a pattern was soon clear: one was always good, and one was always a bit of an outcast. This year, best friends Sophie and Agatha are about to discover where all the lost children go: the fabled School for Good & Evil, where ordinary boys and girls are trained to be fairy tale heroes and villains. Sophie has dreamed of being kidnapped into an enchanted world her whole life; with her pink dresses, glass slippers, and devotion to good deeds, she knows she’ll earn top marks at the School for Good and graduate a storybook princess. Agatha, meanwhile, with her shapeless black frocks, wicked pet cat, and dislike of nearly everyone, seems a natural fit for the School for Evil. But their fortunes are reversed when Sophie ends up in the School for Evil and Agatha in the School for Good. It seems wrong to both — unnatural — but what if this mistake is the first clue to discovering who Sophie and Agatha really are?
S. C3491sc

Deonn, Tracy
Legendborn. 2020 (Teen).
After her mother dies in an accident, sixteen-year-old Bree Matthews wants nothing to do with her family memories or childhood home. A residential program for bright high schoolers at UNC-Chapel Hill seems like the perfect escape — until Bree witnesses a magical attack her very first night on campus. She then learns about a secret society of so called “Legendborn” students that hunt creatures down. When a teenage mage who calls himself a “Merlin” fails to wipe Bree’s memory of everything she saw and learned, Bree’s own unique magic is unlocked — and so is a buried memory with a hidden connection: the night her mother died, another Merlin was at the hospital. To find out the truth, Bree recruits Nick, a self-exiled Legendborn, and the two search for the society’s secrets. But they find out a magical war is coming, and Bree has to decide how far she’ll go for the truth and whether or not she should use her magic to take the society down or join the fight.
S. D4402le

Douglass, Ryan
The Taking of Jake Livingston. 2021 (Teen).
Jake Livingston is one of the only Black kids at St. Clair Prep, one of the others being his infinitely more popular older brother. It’s hard enough fitting in but to make matters worse (and definitely more complicated), Jake can see the dead. In fact, he sees the dead around him all the time. Most are harmless. Stuck in their death loops as they relive their deaths over and over again. But then Jake meets Sawyer: a troubled teen who shot and killed six kids at a local high school last year before taking his own life. Now a powerful, vengeful ghost, Sawyer has plans for his afterlife — plans that include Jake. Suddenly, everything Jake knows about ghosts and the rules to life itself go out the window as Sawyer begins haunting him and bodies turn up in his neighborhood. High school soon becomes a survival game — one Jake is not sure he’s going to win.
S. D7476ta

James, Riley
Story Thieves. 2015 (Middle Grade).
Life is boring when you live in the real world, instead of starring in your own book series. Owen knows that better than anyone, what with the real world’s homework and chores. But everything changes the day Owen sees the impossible happen: his classmate Bethany climb out of a book in the library. It turns out Bethany’s half-fictional and has been searching every book she can find for her missing father, a fictional character. Bethany can’t let anyone else learn her secret, so Owen makers her a deal — all she has to do is take him into a book in Owen’s favorite Kiel Gnomenfoot series, and he’ll never say a word. Besides, visiting the book might help Bethany find her father. Or it might just destroy the Kiel Gnomenfoot series, reveal Bethany’s secret to the entire world, and force Owen to live out Kiel Gnomentfoot’s final (very final) adventure.
S. R4534s

Johnson, Maureen
The Hand on the Wall. 2020 (Teen).
Ellingham Academy must be cursed. Three people are now dead. One, a victim of either a prank gone wrong or a murder. Another, dead by misadventure. And now, an accident in Burlington has claimed another life. All three in the wrong place at the wrong time. All at the exact moment of Stevie’s greatest triumph…She knows who Truly Devious is. She’s solved it. The greatest case of the century. At least, she thinks she has. The three deaths in the present; the deaths in the past; the missing Alice Ellingham and the missing David Eastman. Somewhere in this place of riddles and puzzles there must be answers. Then another accident occurs as a massive storm heads toward Vermont. This is too much for the parents and administrators. Ellingham Academy is evacuated. Obviously, it’s time for Stevie to do something stupid. It’s time to stay on the mountain and face the storm — and a murderer.
S. J635trva

Lee, Victoria
A Lesson in Vengeance. 2021 (Teen).
Felicity Morrow is back at Dalloway School. Perched in the Catskill mountains, the centuries-old, ivy-covered campus was home until the tragic death of her girlfriend. Now, after a year away, she’s returned to graduate. She even has her old room in Godwin House, the exclusive dormitory rumored to be haunted by the spirits of five Dalloway students — girls some say were witches. The Dalloway Five all died mysteriously, one after another, right on Godwin grounds. Witchcraft is woven into Dalloway’s history. The school doesn’t talk about it, but the students do. Before her girlfriend died, Felicity was drawn to the dark. She’s determined to leave that behind now; all Felicity wants is to focus on her senior thesis and graduate. But it’s hard when Dalloway’s occult history is everywhere. And when the new girl won’t let her forget.
[On order as of November 2021]

Power, Rory
Wilder Girls. 2019 (Teen).
It’s been eighteen months since the Raxter School for Girls was put under quarantine. Since the Tox hit and pulled Hetty’s life out from under her. It started slow. First the teachers died one by one. Then it began to infect the students, turning their bodies strange and foreign. Now, cut off from the rest of the world and left to fend for themselves on their island home, the girls don’t dare wander outside the school’s fence, where the Tox has made the woods wild and dangerous. They wait for the cure they were promised as the Tox seeps into everything. But when Byatt goes missing, Hetty will do anything to find her, even if it means breaking quarantine and braving the horrors that lie beyond the school’s fence.
S. P8718wi

Talley, Robin
As I Descended. 2016 (Teen).
Maria Lyon and Lily Boiten are their school’s ultimate power couple — even if no one knows it but them. Only one thing stands between them and their perfect future: campus superstar Delilah Dufrey. Golden child Delilah is a legend at the exclusive Archeron Academy, and the presumptive winner of the distinguished Cawdor Kingsley Prize. She runs the school, and if she chose, she could blow up Maria and Lily’s whole world with a pointed look, or a carefully placed word. But what Delilah doesn’t know is that Lily and Maria are willing to do anything to make their dreams come true. And the first step is unseating Delilah for the Kingsley Prize. The full scholarship, awarded to Maria, will lock her attendance at Stanford — and four more years in a shared dorm with Lily. But when feuds turn to fatalities, and madness begins to blur the distinction between what’s real and what is imagined, the girls must decide where they draw the line.
S. T145a

Yolen, Jane
Monster Academy. 2018 (Picture Book).
Where do monsters go to school? Monster Academy! And anything can happen when your teacher is Miss Mummy. Come along with Principal Frank N. Stein into a bright, energetic classroom where the class pet is a big purple boa constrictor, recess is in a swamp, and class bats help build a Creepy Castle in the Monster Maker’s Lab. When Tornado Jo, a new student, roars into class, a storm is brewing. Who could ever guess that her new best friend will be a vampire, and she’ll help him find his missing fang?
Q. SE. Y78mon