Ghosts of Harvard – Francesca Serritella

Harvard was more than a school. It was validation. It was history. It was expectation. The place crackled with potential energy. She could see the crowd around the John Harvard statue, a reminder that the college was founded in 1636, before the country itself. The legacy of the past and the onus of the future freighted the present moment, like time collapsing inward. It was saying This is the launch pad for your extraordinary future, if only you don’t blow it. Behind the smiles and hugs and introductions, the self-doubt: Am I smart enough, talented enough, driven enough to deserve my place here? Will I make good on this golden ticket, or will I crack under the pressure? They were questions for every student here, but only Cady knew the stakes: If I crack, will I survive?

This book is so amazing, I loved it so much! It was a fascinating and compelling read, compulsively readable.

We follow the journey of Cady, a freshman in Harvard. Her brother was also an alumni, but that ended the night he committed suicide. Her brother was schizophrenic and his death was heartbreaking to the family, but Cady is determined to go to the same school as her brother, not only because she got accepted into f-ing Harvard, but also because she is curious about the place her brother spent his last days. Cady for me was a good protagonist. The author showed her layers and traumas throughout the book slowly, granting the character a growing depth along the novel. To follow in her journey, her frenetic investigation in search for the truth was a great experience and so neatly done.

The atmosphere here, and let me pause by saying that this book is certainly a dark academia in my view, as it checks the boxes of my five item list of categories for a dark academia book (you can read about that in my blog) but also the atmosphere and descriptions of the setting, the campus life, Harvard as a vivid and ferocious place almost like a character itself, that alone would make this a strong candidate for a DA, nevertheless there is still another very crucial aspect represented in this book, the life of academia itself, and the burden students face each and every day. For example, one day Cady arrives late for her first lecture in a subject, because she got lost on campus trying to find the classroom. The professor then humiliates her in front of the whole class in a horrible way because of that single fact. Worst is when she talks to a colleague right after said class and the person points out that he arrived minutes before her (meaning also late) and the professor didn’t even acknowledge him. That is also a way of showing the male importunation of women inside the academic environment. This simply put was a brilliant aspect done in this book, there are many occurrences like that in this novel and it is a necessary and important portrayal of what academic life is truly like, and it is a way of being DA simply because it shows this ugly side of human behavior that permeates this surroundings and that isn’t as glamorous as one might dream of when dreaming of being a part of an elite place of study.

Additionally the competitive aspect that is often associated with dark academia is also present, just in different ways that you can imagine. To the fall descriptions of the crisp weather, to the gloriously described places of Harvard (seriously I wanna be there now) and to the chilly aspect relating to ghost stories, this book certainly has all the qualities of a great story and certainly a great dark academia one.

Cady arrived at Annenberg, the imposing freshman dining hall inside Memorial Hall. It was unnatural for a cafeteria to be so beautiful: The enormous banquet hall boasted a vaulted ceiling supported by mighty wooden trusses, with stained-glass windows glittering between them, better suited to a cathedral than a mess hall. Fourteen chandeliers with lamps like medieval goblets lit the walnut-paneled space, and past Harvard presidents distinguished graduates peered down from gold-framed portraits or cool white marble busts mounted along the walls above the diners.

The writing is very fluid and addictive, so much so that I read 50% of this book in one afternoon. It is, after all, a gripping mystery of a young woman in search for the truth about her brother’s death. Not only I found the book so intriguing that I didn’t want to put it down but I also thought the ending to be perfectly satisfying. Also I cannot forget to mention that this book has a great gothic element to it, which is along the path to uncover the secrets, Cady begins to hear voices from the past, from people who lived themselves at Harvard. Is she following in the footsteps of her brother? Does she share his illness? Or is this phenomena something else, something supernatural even? What I love about this books is that it lets you decide for yourself. In the vein of stories like The Turn of the Screw, this book gives you all the information and says: what do you think is happening?

I am so glad to finally have read this because I’ve wanted it for so long, and I’m even more glad that I loved it. This book will surely stay with me for a long time.

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