Top 5 Tuesday: Books Set at School

Hello and happy Tuesday, book friends! I had a three day weekend thanks to the July 4th holiday here in the states, and I very much needed some rest after my pain flare and my COVID-19 vaccine booster shot, from which I had some mild (and harmless) side effects like achiness and a rash on my arm.

Am I still arriving at the workweek mildly exhausted? Yes, yes I am. But, here we are with another Top 5 Tuesday post! Top 5 Tuesday is a weekly meme created by Bionic Bookworm, now hosted by Meeghan Reads. If you’re interested in participating, check out their blog to get the details and the prompts for each week!

Edited to add: I accidentally hopped in my TARDIS and skipped ahead to the prompt for the week of July 12th, which is “books that take place in schools.” Check back next week for the July 5th prompt I was supposed to do today, most anticipated reads for the second half of the year!

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Fangirl takes place during the protagonist’s first year of college and, while it was frustrating to read at times, is a realistic look at how challenging the transition can be. It has also been made into a series of graphic novels, which I haven’t read yet.

The Nature of Witches by Rachel Griffin

Schools for magic are my preferred sorts of schools to read about, it seems. This one takes place at a training facility for witches who, in this universe, have weather-related powers.

Erotic Stories by Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal

Adult learning classes at the local community center totally count as schools, right? Well, I’m counting them, because a great deal of the plot of Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows takes place during or around an adult writing course.

The Witch Haven by Sasha Peyton Smith

This book is a bit darker than what I usually go for, but I loved it. Our main character winds up at a school for young witches, but of course, not all is as it appears.

The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood

The Love Hypothesis takes place at a university, in case you didn’t encounter this information already through the book’s massive popularity on the bookish internet.

This was a really fun topic to think about, since I haven’t really considered how many books take place in a school or classroom setting before! Have you read any good books lately that are set in school? Let me know!

You Need to Read this Friends-to-Lovers Roadtrip Romance

Image created by the editor in Canva

If you’ve read even a handful of my other book reviews, you probably know that friends-to-lovers romances are my genre kryptonite. I can’t resist the longterm friendship, mutual pining, and the slow shift from friends to something more. There’s just something about that solid foundation of knowing and caring for one another that gets me every time.

(Full disclosure: This post uses affiliate links. I received a complimentary digital review copy of this book via NetGalley and Random House Children’s / Delacourt Press in exchange for my honest review.)

The latest installment in Amanda reading all the friends to lovers books she comes across was Kasie West’s Places We’ve Never Been, which I received as a digital ARC via NetGalley.

We begin our story with Norah, who is excited about a road trip her family is taking with her mom’s best friend, Olivia, and her three children. Norah grew up with Skyler, who was her very best friend until the family moved from California to Ohio and they lost touch over time. She assumes their reunion will be all hugs and inside jokes, so she’s shocked when Skyler is cold and distant.

Three weeks on a road trip, sharing an RV with a best friend turned apparent enemy? What could possibly go wrong?

From here, we see Norah struggle with her hurt and confusion as she tries to understand why Skyler appears less than thrilled at their reunion. There’s also the fact that it’s clear the parents — and Norah’s brother — are keeping some kind of secret about the reason for this sudden reunion.

What I Liked

Oh, YA friends to lovers romance, I’ll never quit you. I love that this story takes place as Norah is preparing for a big change in her life. She’s applying to college, excited to study video game design and bring her way of seeing the world to life.

Though the friends-to-lovers arc is a driving force in the story, the big moment we’re leading up to isn’t just a kiss. It’s also Norah’s admissions interview with the Dean of a small college she’s hoping to attend. I like when the stakes in a love story go above and beyond the relationship, when there’s something else the characters have to navigate together or on their own.

Similarly, I enjoyed the tension around why the moms suddenly needed this three week road trip without their husbands. Though I more or less figured out what was going on long before the big reveal, I liked seeing the kids try to figure it out, and there were a few surprises in the mix that kept up the suspense.

I stayed up well past my bedtime reading this one, shocking my husband when he got home at 11:30pm to find me awake. The plot is compelling and easy to follow, grabbing me so that I had to find out why Skyler was avoiding Norah, what the moms were hiding, and whether it was the same secret as the one Norah’s brother seems to be keeping.

The road trip element is also a good time, with travel experiences forming a nice backdrop for the characters’ interactions with one another. There are good opportunities for natural tension and drama inherent in this setup that I felt West used effectively throughout.

What I Didn’t Like

I tore through this one so quickly, it’s hard to say what exactly I didn’t like about it since clearly I enjoyed the experience.

There were a few unresolved questions for me that I wish we’d gotten clarity on, particularly relating to Skyler’s relationship with his father and with his art.

There’s also a mild love triangle-esque toss-in element that I didn’t feel was really necessary, and it came off a bit creepy at times.

Overall, Places I’ve Never Been is a delightful look at the complexities of friendship, family, and falling in love. It’s a coming of age novel as much as it is a love story, and seeing Norah and Skyler accept who they are and the ways that they’ve changed and grown was quite possibly the best part of the book.

I recommend Places I’ve Never Been to fans of the friends-to-lovers trope, road trip narratives, and video games, as well as those who enjoy a coming of age story about high schoolers preparing to enter the next phase of their lives.

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