Recommend some stories set in orphanages or boarding schools, please

Now that NaNoWriMo is over with for 2011, I finally have some time to read and watch movies. But both orphanages or boarding schools are still on my mind…

What can you recommend for a book or movie set in either? Fiction or non-fiction are both fine. Non-fiction would actually be awesome since I have read very little on either of the subjects. As for fiction, I don’t care about genre, so anything between earnest realistic depiction and a school full of wizards & witches* are welcome. Adult and YA novels are both fine too.

However, either way it would be nice if such tales have taken place in the last 30 years. I don’t mind recommendations like The Cider House Rules and A Great And Terrible Beauty if you consider something along those lines that a must read, but I’m more curious about what the experience would be like at either place now-ish.

Any stand out as particular favorites? Or strike you as utterly unrealistic if fictional?
Thanks :slight_smile:

  • I’ve read: all the Harry Potter books, the Books of Fell by M.E. Kerr, Holly Black’s new Curse Workers books, the Gemma Doyle trilogy, Jane Erye, Oliver Twist, A Little Princess & The Catcher in the Rye. And I’ve seen: The Trouble with Angels, Strange Days at Blake Holsey High, The Facts of Life, and The Dead Poets Society. I think that’s about it.

A Separate Peace was set in a boarding school, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

Among Others is a YA book that came out this year, it takes place about 35 years ago. Boarding school with a very slight fantasy twist.

Another YA title, set in the present day - John Greene’s Looking for Alaska.

Literary fiction: Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (set in the near future), Tobias Wolff’s Old School (set in the 1960s)

YA British Alternate History - Knightly Academy series by Violet Haberdasher (and yes that’s a psudonym, why do you ask? 2 so far - Knightly Academy and The Secret Prince, very strongly (and purposefully) based on the ‘feeling’ of the HP series.

Not earthshattering, but fun to read.

Missed the edit window:

ETA - You might also watch Annie - the version with Carol Burnett as Mrs Hannigan makes me happy every time I watch it. All those little girls and all those raggedy clothes.

Tom Brown’s Schooldays. I’m not certain it’s the first, but it’s THE classic boarding school story.

Malory Towers. This is a cute British series of books set in a boarding school somewhere along the coast (?). At least one of the stories had an OUTRAGEOUS American exchange student. I got mine from the UK and it seems that it may be difficult to get if you are in the US.

Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card. This is a rather good science fiction story with a big chunk of it set at a future “space academy” type of boarding school. Oh, did I mention it has laser tag tactics?

The Devil’s Backbone is set in a haunted orphanage, although the year is 1939, outside the range you asked about.

The Magdalene Sisters is set in an Catholic-run “asylum for young women” in Ireland in 1964.

Edit: almost forgot The Hole, set in England around 2000.

Did anyone recommend The Orphanage?

Prep is a pretty good read. It’s fiction, though if I recall correctly it’s somewhat autobiographical. Modern-day setting, boarding school, pretty good (though not great) read.


“Dear Enemy” is the little-known sequel to Jean Webster’s “Daddy-Long Legs”. It’s an epistolary novel told from the point of view of a society girl who has been put in charge of reforming an orphan asylum. It’s really sweet, but it’s also an interesting take on child-rearing and educational philosophies around the turn of the century. And you can read it in a couple hours–it’s very light.

What about The World According to Garp?

I remember reading Madeleine LEngle’s And Both Were Young when I was a kid. I think I liked it.


I think Gossip Girl is a love it or hate it kind of thing, but should you happen to be one of those who loves it (I think it’s brilliant – the books, I’ve never seen the TV show), there is a companion series that starts with The It Girl, and is set at a modern day, posh boarding school. It’s ghostwritten by someone who is not von Ziegesar, so they are not quite as good as the Gossip Girl titles.

While I liked it a lot, almost none of it involves kids living in an orphanage. Like The Abandoned and Crazy Eights, it’s more of a go back to your (frightening) roots as adult sort of story.

There isn’t going to be much, at least set in developed countries.

After WWII, social services moved to foster care and to public aid for single parents, and the orphanage was relegated to history. Even institutional care for troubled and special needs kids is mostly group homes.

Would you be open to expanding your topics to include valiant, capable children whose parents are off-stage? (often FAR off-stage)

THAT’s an area that has always had an extensive literature.

A Little Princess is a classic of this genre (imo).

Not contemporary, as the author was growing up in the early years of the twentieth century, but The King of the Barbareens is a very well-written book which examines what it was like to move between foster parents, boarding school, and Barnardo’s homes.

The ability of the author to write, and also her insight and retrospective acceptance of the fact that she was a less-than-lovable child, shows up contemporary misery memoirs for what they are.

We do still some of them in the US, though. There’s a Catholic orphanage just a couple of towns away from where I live; on nice days you can see the nuns taking the boys to the park.

A great indie bit about orphanages in the US (not a novel, but a documentary):

Richard Mckenzie produced it, his feel on orphanages: