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Creepy Campus: 5 Back-to-School Thrillers with Truly Villainous Students

by  | September 10
Legendborn book on a couch

Back to school is looking a little bit different this year for teachers and students alike. So we’ve decided to embrace the abnormal with a list of thrillers featuring schools that have a bit more drama (and villainy) than your average experience. Once you dive into these stories of schools infiltrated by magical creatures, cult-like societies, and serial killers, maybe you can reminisce about your school days with relief at the fact that yours weren’t all that bad by comparison?

Different Class

Different Class

by Joanne Harris

Sure, Harry Potter has his fill of murderous mayhem at Hogwarts, but take it one step further and imagine a story more centered on the evil that is Tom Marvolo Riddle, sans magic. That’s the vibe you’ll get from this dark, psychological suspense tale about a sociopathic young outcast at an antiquated prep school and the curmudgeonly Latin teacher who uncovers his dangerous secret. After thirty years at St. Oswald’s Grammar in North Yorkshire, England, Latin master Roy Straitley has seen all kinds of boys come and go. But every so often there’s a boy who doesn’t quite fit the mold. A boy with darkness inside.

With insolvency and academic failure looming, a new headmaster arrives at the venerable school, bringing with him new technology, sharp suits, and even girls to the dusty corridors. But while Straitley does his sardonic best to resist these steps toward the future, a shadow from his past begins to stir again. A boy who still haunts Straitley’s dreams twenty years later. A boy capable of terrible things.

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They Never Learn

They Never Learn

by Layne Fargo

When you combine murderous students AND murderous teachers, you get quite the dynamic psychological thriller. In They Never Learn, Scarlett Clark is an exceptional English professor and she’s even better at getting away with murder. Every year, she searches for the worst man at Gorman University and plots his well-deserved demise. Meanwhile, Gorman student Carly Schiller is just trying to survive her freshman year, but when her new roommate and friend is sexually assaulted at a party, Carly becomes obsessed with making the attacker pay...and turning her fantasies about revenge into a reality. Everything is going as planned, until the school starts probing into the growing body count on campus.

Featuring Layne Fargo’s trademark suspense, They Never Learn is a feminist serial killer story perfect for fans of Killing Eve.

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Legendborn

Legendborn

by Tracy Deonn

Mix together a concoction of secret student society, supernatural creatures, and Arthurian-inspired magicians at war, and you get Legendborn. 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: a flying demon feeding on human energies. She soon learns about a secret society of so called “Legendborn” students that hunt the creatures down.

But when a mysterious teenage mage who calls himself a “Merlin” attempts—and fails—to wipe Bree’s memory of everything she saw, it unlocks Bree’s own unique magic and a buried memory that may lead to answers about her mother’s death. Author Tracy Deonn’s YA contemporary fantasy, Legendborn offers the dark allure of City of Bones with a modern-day twist on a classic legend and a lot of Southern Black Girl Magic.

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They Did Bad Things

They Did Bad Things

by Lauren A. Forry

If you want the exploration of the human capacity to descend into evil in The Secret History with a little nod to And Then There Were None, check out the dark and twisty psychological thriller They Did Bad Things. In 1995, six university students moved into the house at 215 Caldwell Street. Months later, one of them was found dead on the sofa the morning after their end-of-year party. His death was ruled an accident by the police. The remaining five all knew it wasn’t.

Twenty years later, all five of them are lured to a crumbling, secluded mansion on the Scottish isle of Doon. Trapped inside, the now forty-somethings fight each other—and the unknown mastermind behind their gathering—as they confront the role they played in their housemate’s death. They are given one choice: confess to their crimes or die.

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Those Who Prey

Those Who Prey

by Jennifer Moffett

Going back to school isn’t always what you expect—certainly not for students in 2020. And certainly not for lonely new college student Emily in Those Who Prey. Emily expected to spend freshman year strolling through the ivy-covered campus with new friends, finally feeling like she belonged. Instead, she walks the campus alone, still not having found her place or her people. Until the Kingdom, an exclusive on-campus group, offers everything Emily expected out of college and more: acceptance, friends, a potential boyfriend, and a chance to spend the summer on a mission trip to Italy. But the trip is not what she thought it would be. Emily and the others are stripped of their passports and money. They’re cut off from their families back home. As the Kingdom’s practices become increasingly manipulative and dangerous and murderous, Emily must escape before it’s too late. Sadie meets The Girls in this riveting debut psychological thriller.

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