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The best light academia books have intellectual charm and a feel-good school-based aesthetic. My curated list blends classic literature and contemporary works set in high school, boarding school, and beyond. You’ll find books that make you feel enlightened, so let’s get literary!

samantha learns a lesson and little women with book accessories in my home
Light academia books from my personal library collection

What is a Light Academia Book?

Light academia books celebrate the pursuit of knowledge and the love of learning in an academic setting. Their plots and themes are generally lighthearted in nature, such as learning a lesson or growing into one’s self. Many are written for a younger reading level, and many have historical settings about a time when life was seemingly simpler and more innocent.

The Light Academia Aesthetic

Dark Academia vs. Light Academia

Light academia books celebrate the pursuit of knowledge and learning in a lighthearted academic setting. In contrast, dark academia novels most often occur at prestigious schools of Victorian gothic architecture and have more disturbing themes.

Light AcademiaDark Academia
Tonelighthearted and optimisticcomplex and introspective
Settingquaint and charmingGothic
Themescoming of age, romance, and self-discoverymystery and moral dilemmas
Charactersbright and open to growthflawed and brooding
Reading Leveloften younger and clearer writing styleoften older and a more complex writing style

Light academia storylines showcase the “good” nature of intellectual pursuits to make you a better person, while dark academia books bear negative themes and the darker side of human nature, including moral dilemmas, violent acts, forbidden love, power struggles, and the like. This often results in narratives that are thrilling and mysterious.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is a popular example of a light academia book in which four sisters foster their creativity as they come of age during the American Civil War.

In contrast, the dark academia style is most often characterized by reference to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, in which a group of New England college students become obsessed with Greek and go down a deadly and immoral path as a result.

The Best Light Academia Books

TOP 3 PICKS

Anne of Green Gables has a beautiful historical Prince Edward Island setting, and its mischievous red-headed orphan comes of age in school, and then makes it a forever part of her life’s work.

Little Women is the long-beloved heartwarming classic in which four sisters foster their creativity as they come of age during the American Civil War.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a sugary-sweet modern favorite, in which a charming teen copes with coming-of-age without her mother as her crushes are revealed at school.

  1. American Girl “Learns a Lesson” Books
  2. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
  3. Goodbye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton
  4. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  5. Matilda by Roald Dahl
  6. Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
  7. The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
  8. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
  9. With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
  10. You Should See Me in A Crown by Leah Johnson

Reviews of Books With the Light Academia Aesthetic

American Girl “Learns a Lesson” Books

My love for the American Girl books runs deep from the 1980s to this day. Each historical doll (including Kirsten, Molly, Samantha, Felicity, etc.) has a series of illustrated books about her, including one in which the doll learns a lesson at school, often tied to the current events and circumstances of their time in American history. It’s all very lightly academic, even during difficult times in the world.

The Molly McIntire books are my personal favorite, so that’s the one I chose to feature here. In Molly Learns a Lesson, third-grader Molly works on a school project for the Lend-a-Hand Contest to help the war effort. Initially interested in her own pursuits, she learned the value of compromise and working together to make a broader impact.


Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

The Anne of Green Gables series is a great example of the best light academia books in the classical literature genre. Anne of Green Gables is the first in the charming series for kids and kids at heart, introducing the reader to the 11-year-old red-headed orphaned spitfire named Anne Shirley.

She arrives at the Green Gables house of aging adult siblings Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert mistakenly, as they had asked for a boy to help on their farm in the town of Avonlea in Prince Edward Island, Canada.

However, with a fierce temper and colorful imagination, Anne makes an impression on the Cuthberts and the townspeople of Avonlea.

As one may expect from her impoverished background, Anne is unrefined and lacks social graces. But, Anne’s journey becomes one of growth, as a beloved teacher recognizes her intelligence and helps her focus on her studies, later attending the Queen’s Academy and earning a college scholarship.

Thereafter, Anne stays in Avonlea as a schoolteacher. From its education themes to its beautiful, historic settings, if this doesn’t scream “light academia,” I don’t know what does!

Related Post: Anne of Green Gables Books in Order


Goodbye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton

Goodbye, Mr. Chips is a long-loved book that reminds me of my childhood. He’s a traditional teacher who learns from a woman that teaching is about so much more.

As he opens his heart and develops a sense of humor, he becomes a memorable educator to his students. This beloved classic’s heartwarming nature has a great light academia aesthetic.


Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Little Women is my personal favorite of all classic books, and it absolutely oozes light academia vibes.

Readers of all ages can find comfort and warmth in this cozy family story of the four March sisters and their matriarch at home during the American Civil War, coming of age and exploring their unique creativity with the charm and simplicity of the time period.

Without giving too much away, so much of this novel is about the sisters’ pursuit of knowledge in their own ways, at times in school settings as well.

Related Post: Little Women Book Review


Matilda by Roald Dahl

Matilda is one of the most memorable books from my childhood, and I know I’m not the only fan of this Roald Dahl classic.

Readers of all ages can enjoy Matilda, the precocious bookworm with telekinetic abilities and a challenging home life. At school, her kind teachers supports her special talents, but she must also face her tyrannical headmistress.

It’s a story of adversity in which Matilda learns the power of standing up against injustice.


Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld

From the cover alone, you can tell that Prep has light academia vibes! This was one of my favorite books of the early 2000s. It reads like a Judy Blume coming-of-age novel, but in a school setting.

Scholarship student Lee Fiora is an observant teenager from South Bend, Indiana. Heading to the Ault School in Massachusetts, she has rose-colored eyes for the school’s glossy brochure, with boys in sweaters and girls in kilts amongst stately brick buildings and meticulous green fields.

She is both intimidated and fascinated by her classmates as an insider and outsider in their world. Then, her identity is shattered when she publicly self-destructs.

It’s not all roses, but ultimately, her experiences as a student, friend, daughter, and girlfriend is a portrayal of each of us dealing with adolescence.


The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan

  • National bestseller

The Royal We adds a dash of royalty to its light academia aesthetic. It’s great for fans of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s love story.

While it’s not exclusively a light academia book about school (but also a story of royal love and romance), I still think it has the feel light academia readers are looking for, particularly because the protagonist, the American Bex, meets the heir to the British throne at Oxford University.


To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

  • New York Times bestseller

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the absolute sweetest diverse young adult (YA) story of the charming teen Lara Jean, who lives with her dad and two sisters after the death of their matriarch.

Lara Jean writes each of her past crushes a letter and hides them in a box under her bed. One day, she learns that her letters have been mailed, causing them to confront her about her feelings—from her first kiss to the boy from summer camp and even her older sister’s ex-boyfriend.

As Lara Jean deals with her lighthearted teenage angst, much of which comes in a school setting, she becomes close to one particular young man and wonders if her predicament isn’t so bad after all.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is compulsively consumable for teens and adults who love that innocent feel. It is also an absolutely adorable movie on Netflix.


With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo

  • Amazon Editors’ Pick

I LOVED With the Fire on High! It’s since become the book I most often recommend to Philly teens, where the novel is set.

While its big-city setting lacks small-town charm, and while it does tackle some heavier plot points, it’s the charming main character that brightens its light academia vibes.

Emoni is a teen mom in Philadelphia grappling with motherhood and the decision between college and her passion for cooking amidst the backdrop of a diverse neighborhood. 

Her voice is unique, engrossing, and refreshing. It’s kind of like Teen Mom mixed with your favorite cooking show and the Netflix show Never Have I Ever.


You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

You Should See Me in a Crown is one of the more modern and diverse light academic books available.

Liz is a Black bisexual teen who has always believed she was too much of an outsider to shine in her small, rich Indiana town. So, she dreams of attending Pennington College, playing in their world-famous orchestra, and becoming a doctor.

When her financial aid falls through, she remembers her school’s prom king and queen scholarship. Although she wants nothing less than to participate in the prom court, she’ll do whatever it takes to go to Pennington.

She begins to fall for the new girl in school, Mack, who is just as much an outsider as she is —but she is also running for prom queen. And, just like that, prom may either keep Liz from her dreams or make them come true.

Conclusion

These light academia books celebrate the pursuit of knowledge and love of learning in an academic setting (often historical), and their plots and themes are generally more lighthearted in nature. While many are written for a younger reading level, they can captivate and charm readers of all ages.

SHOP THE POST

To recap and help you decide what to read first or next, my top 3 picks are:

Keep the conversation going! Share your own favorite light academia novel in the comments below.

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