American universities are bastions of knowledge, hotbeds of activism and academic politics, and a constant source of fascination for writers, who show them at their best and worst. Here are three books, reviewed by Kirkus Indie, that offer very different takes on the college experience.

Adrian Jones Pearson ’s satirical novel Cow Country (2014) presents rural Cow Eye Community College, where Charlie, the new special-projects coordinator, must plan a Christmas party for the odd, quarreling faculty members, which include an anarchist medieval-poetry professor and a mute public speaking instructor. (During his interview, Charlie was asked “what [he] would do if one of my colleagues tried to sever the head of a key administrator.”) Kirkus’ reviewer calls the novel “ambitious in its creation of [its] kooky world” and says that it “will certainly strike a chord with readers lost in their own wacky arenas of academic bickering.”

In Mario Acevedo’s 2017 YA sci-fi novel University of Doom, the titular institution fires Dr. Eugenio Frankenstein for his mad-scientist experiments, accusing him of “nine counts of playing God.” (The college’s hypocritical motto? “LUDIMUS DEUS,” or “We play God.”) Meanwhile, his teenage son, Alfonso, reanimates animals at his junior academy. The dismissal causes both to move to suburbia, where they encounter even stranger things. Kirkus’ reviewer says that readers will “crave further adventures in this anything-goes world.” 

Sean-Michael Green offers what Kirkus’ reviewer calls “amusing, insightful snapshots of Ivy League variegations” in the Things I Learned in College nonfiction overview The Things I Learned in College (2016). The author spent 30 days residing at each Ivy League school during the 2004-05 academic year, during which he noted Cornell’s “sense of inferority” and the fact that MIT’s students were friendlier than Harvard’s. At the same time, he hearteningly noted that the students are “more thoughtful and talented than any caricature can express.” David Rapp is the senior Indie editor.