High School: It’s Not Like the Books: Discussion

I love reading contemporary. I love finding a relatable character, placing myself in a familiar situation, and seeing how wonderful the regular world can be. In YA, there are so many contemporary books set in a high school setting, something that the target audience, teenagers, can relate to.

I started reading YA when I was 12, and set my expectations for high school based off the books I read. However, it seems to me that the high school typically depicted in books is really very different from actual high school. There are common themes and tropes I’ve come across that are really nothing like real life, in my personal experience. I wanted to share a few of them here:

The Popular Mean Girl

I’m not in any way a popular girl lol. However, I don’t live (completely) under a rock; I know how they act. There is no public humiliation, trying to make life miserable, calling people horrible names, etc. Some of the popular kids annoy me, but none of them act so horrible as they can be depicted, and if I was one of the “cool kids,” I would probably be annoyed by the rep they’re given. EX: To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han.

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Everyone Hates the Unpopular Kid

There are so many books I’ve read where the unpopular kid (often the main character) is known for being the least popular kid in the entire school. The way I see it, if everyone knows who you are, you’re pretty popular lol. In my experience, people simply don’t know the unpopular kids exist. They’re not widespread mocked for being a looser or anything. EX: Eliza and her Monsters 

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Popular ≠ Nerd

Okay, so this one might just be my school since I go to a complete nerd school, but my grade’s winter formal prince and princess are both in my zero period (wake up an hour earlier to cram in another class) AP (college level) class. Are people really mocked for being serious about their studies? And this goes with cliques as well. You can be a nerd and an athlete. In the band and the musical. They’re not mutually exclusive. EX: Airhead

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Everyone Knows Everyone

This one is sort of a culmination of all the earlier ones, but how do people actually know everyone? I don’t even know everyone in my homeroom, much less in the entire school. EX: The Princess Diaries

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Dating is Super Important

Honestly, I know more people who don’t have a boyfriend than people who do have a boyfriend. I know plenty of people (seniors!) who go to prom with just friends, not a date. Ex: How To Keep A Boy From Kissing You

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I think that high school has been embellished in books to create more of a dramatic story. Especially the last one on dating–most contemporary books are about getting a boyfriend, and romance is a huge genre. It’s also easier to create more drama in a story if all the characters know each other, as well as if you have some clearly defined “antagonist,” like the mean girl.

I like reading books to escape my life and get engrossed in a wonderful new world. This is why I love fantasy, which is a really popular genre as well. If high school in books isn’t so close to high school in real life, reading contemporary can provide an escape like fantasy.

Honestly, I really like reading contemporary books portraying high school the way they do. It’s nice to have a little swoon worthy romance. To have someone else to blame for the misery that it is. But at the same time, I think it might be nice to have someone I could really relate to more. For example, in Jenny Han’s Always and Forever, Lara Jean, the conclusion to To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, the mean girl/love triangle conflict is replaced with one much more emotional and relatable–going away to college.

Do you think that high school in books is different than real life? (Or is it just me being super unpopular and living under a rock…). Why do you think this is? Do you like the way high school is portrayed, or would you like to see something different? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

27 thoughts on “High School: It’s Not Like the Books: Discussion

  1. Great discussion post, i totally agree. Most of the things we read about in high school books are totally cliches that are rarely seen today.

    The only thing i differ on if “knowing everyone in the school”. I didnt really know people in younger grades, but out of the 300 kids in my year i knew most of their names. I think it may be because i went through primary school with a lot of them and the teacher used to pair us up with different individuals all the time, but yeah i knew nearly everyones name even if i never even spoke to them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you agree 🙂 That’s cool that you knew everyone. I went to a tiny middle school with only 80 people in our grade and knew everyone, but my hs has more than 600 in our grade and I know like nobody lol

      Liked by 1 person

      1. hahah okay that makes a huge difference. Especially when theres no way you’d have a class with all 600 kids.I guess it really depends on the high school. The one that was closest to me only had 80 in my year, so i dont know how you wouldnt know everyone hahah

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  2. I totally agree with high school books being totally different from real life. Especially the stuff about the popular kids. I was a quiet, nerdy goth kid in high school, so I should have been prime picking for the kind of popular kids books normally focus on (aka the mean ones). And yet, the most popular girl in school was always super nice to me (and everyone). She never talked about anyone behind their back, and she was just genuinely happy to be talking to you. And I ended up becoming friends with a few guys from the football team because they were in my physics class and just really nice guys. Honestly, the mean kids didn’t stick to a certain group. They were just whoever happened to have a mean personality. There were some popular kids who were mean to me in middle school cause I was suuuuper nerdy, but they either grew out of it, or became less popular in high school because they were just total dicks lol.

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    1. I’m glad we agree on this 🙂 The mean kids are really in every group. And the becoming less popular because they’re such jerks is also true–I really don’t get how the kids in books get to be so popular when everyone hates them!

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  3. What great examples! I totally agree that books exaggerate on a lot of characteristics and stereotypes. It wasn’t that black and white or drastic at my school either. I often feel like it is only done to create more drama, but that just doesn’t make it feel real at all.

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  4. I totally agree, Kay! High school in books are definitely exaggerated for more drama and conflict. It’s nice to read books like that, but at the same time, something more realistic would be better. (On that note, this could also just be me living under a rock as well, haha).

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  5. This is such a great discussion post! I’m Norwegian and most of my impressions of high school in the US come from YA books, so it’s really interesting to read about how it’s different in real life.

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  6. oh man i loooooove this post. particularly the popular mean girl and popular vs nerd trope. popular mean girl i just find to be a sexist girl hate-y sort of trope always, in addition to being totally against, like, the entirety of my high school experience? but in my high school it was cool to be smart + passionate about things too! which is pretty much what a nerd is.

    i wish YA had more realistic interpretations of high school!!! or at least less dramatic ones :/ great post!

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    1. I’m so glad you agree! I was lowkey worried that it was just me living under a gigantic rock and not seeing how hs really works xD I legit don’t get why it would be uncool to be a nerd; like, you’re smart and going to an amazing college and going to do great things with your life laaamme?? Thanks 🙂

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  7. This is such an awesome post!! And I get what you mean! High School was not much like how it was depicted in books, at least not for me. I wasn’t “popular” or “cool” at school, but I don’t think they’re nearly as bad as they look in books (in the schools I went to, they were just cliquey- which was fine by me, cos if they didn’t want to talk about books, I didn’t have much to say to them anyway). And yeah I think you’re more on point about the unpopular kids. And yeah, in lots of schools people really don’t know everyone. I also went to girls schools, so any dating stuff happened outside of school, so I could never relate to that school-romance element in contemporaries when I was younger.

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    1. I’m glad you relate 🙂 And I go to a school with boys and girls but I still can’t relate to school romance haha since I pretty much live under a rock. If they don’t want to talk about books I don’t have much to say to them–more relatable thing I’ve read all day ❤

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  8. So much truth on a post. I think also YA books only exists in US high schools, in my country people only go to prívate schools, also no one has a car at sixteen and Prom its not an actual thing haha 😂 so for me they’re even more different than my actual high school.

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  9. This is a really interesting discussion.
    I’ve never been able to relate to a book set in High School. I’m from Spain and our education system has nothing to do with the American system. As the majority of contemporary books I read are set in America, I’ve never been able to see myself in these books.
    I really like this post because, I don’t know about other countries, but in here we picture American High Schools like High School Musical. I have other references thanks to the books I read and different TV shows or movies, but the general idea is always the same. The popular kids, the mean girls, the nerds, the different clubs. You can see this in books, you can see this in Glee, you can see this in almost every book set in school. Over here we don’t have clubs, we don’t have homerooms. Everybody has to take the same classes every course, so we do know everybody in school. And sure, I did see bullying in high school but the popular spannish kids have nothing to do with the american ones. We also don’t have sports, not in the way you guys do, or cheerleaders (those don’t exist here, at least not in public high schools). So to see the image I have in my head contrasted with the reality is really interesting.
    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Spain seems super cool–I’d love to visit some day 🙂 I wish there were more high school books set outside of America–the world has so many amazing cultures that should be more represented ❤
      Haha yes high school here is pretty much nothing like High School Musical. Pretty much all the popular kids at my hs are nerds xD I wish American high schools were more accurately represented. Thanks so much for commenting! I really liked reading your comment about Spanish high school and the differences!

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  10. I love a bit of drama so I don’t mind some of the points in the list at all.
    The whole clique thing based on your major point of interest (sports, music, drama, maths and science, etc) is outdated once you reach secondary school (7th grade) but cliques of other, normal kinds do exist because that’s human nature and therefore, that’s something that should be highlighted. Otherwise, I feel that writers might feel it’s just an easy thing to do and just the norm in general.
    The whole mean popular girl is a tired and so damn boring stereotype and we should be moving past this by now. Take a look at Sheri from 13 Reasons Why (without taking the stop sign into account), she was popular and genuinely caring. Break some damn stereotypes that bear no logic and stop treating it like a mathematic formula, hot + popular = mean. To me = total nonsense.
    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha I agree that sometimes exaggerated stuff is great for drama in books! Completely agree on the mean popular girl thing. There are some mean popular girls, and nice popular girls, mean unpopular girls, and nice unpopular ones! Everyone is different!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Great points here. I was starting to wonder, with all the YA I have been reading, if high school has changed that much because I didn’t remember all of these things happening, either 🙂


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