The Girls of Canby Hall: Roommates

I’ve gotten lots of a requests for this one, and I aim to please…

I never read this series as a young gal, so understand that I have no reference to how this would have affected me. But I wish I had, because here’s a series about some seemingly real and likeable characters. Sorry, hard to snark! And you all know how I feel about boarding schools. When I was younger, I saw it as some magical place where if I ever got the chance to go to I would suddenly come into my own, get involved, and be somebody. The idea of living on my own with a whole bunch of students my own age was such a draw for me. Funny, my first college dorm experience was less than desireable and I was so unprepared to manage the things that went with it. My obsession with boarding schools continued through college and I actually had the chance to work at Phillips Academy for a while. I loved it sooooo much and I think just working there for the short time I did just gave me the taste of what I needed about it. I did lots of sitting out in the quad talking about intellectual things and guiding the minds of some bright, rich students. But I’m over that and I am not so interested in furthering the lives of already privileged students. And, since reading Prep, I realize that boarding school would have been a NIGHTMARE for me. [And, I can’t say this enough, but READ PREP IMMEDIATELY. It’s genius.]

Anyway, enough about me! Back to the book! So three gals are transferring their sophomore year to Canby Hall, a private girls’ boarding school.

Dana: the cool girl from New York City. You know what? She is pretty cool. She’s got the New York vibe without being over the top and is not the kind of person won’t shut up about being cool and sophisticated because she’s from New York [cough]StaceyMcGill[cough].

Faith: is Black and from Washington DC (yay for someone recognizing that DC is primarily Black and not just home to congresspeople and young white professionals]. She is a bit tough at the beginning and has her guard up, most likely to protect herself from the racism she’ll get from a prep school. I actually like how the author and the characters acknowledge her blackness and acknowledge that racism and recognize her identity, and not be like, oh and by the way, she’s black. [cough]JessiRamsey[cough]

Shelley: annoyed the crap out of me. She’s from a southern town and spent the whole book homesick and sulking around. But, she comes around in the end and ends up coming back after Christmas break.

When the girls first get there they start hating each other after some miscommunications and its super tense. Dana goes out and joins chorus and gains some confidence to go to mixers and stuff. She meets and gets involved with some Don Juan and there’s some drama with that. (Conveniently, there is an all boys’ school at the next town over.) The nice thing about their dating is not some gooey talking and unrealistic dating but they actually talk to each other and get to know each other. Imagine that? Talking to the boy you are dating about interesting things!

Faith mostly does schoolwork but befriends a girls named Casey, who is kind of a troublemaker and a smartass. She is that way because she has pretty crappy parents who ignore her. One night she almost runs away and Faith goes out and convinces her to come back home, but they have to sneak back in and she takes the heat for it, but it all works out.

They get through their misunderstanding and are helped by their housemother Alison, who is the funky young person who always has the answer to everyone’s problems. Imagine Elizabeth Wakefield all grown up. I don’t know if Allison is also a teacher there, but what a shitty job to be available at all hours to some preteen girls.

Kudos to the writer of this series: the girls have crushes and stuff, but they are pretty focused on school and are written as smart and independent. And they truly do seem to have a friendship that seems fun.

Okay, so I have to insert some snark in here about the cover. I know it is 1983, but their clothes- Yeesh! Dana is supposed to be hip, but what the hell is she wearing? A prairie shirt and baby-poo-green pants? [I seriously think American Apparel clothes are based on clothing from YA covers.] Faith looks about 47 years old. [but the mock turtleneck is back!] Shelley is normally dressed, but her face makes her look like she has a case of the crazies. Plus, she is described as being a bit chubby. If that’s chubby, then we’re doomed.

I’ve had a hard time finding these, but I wouldn’t mind reading a couple more.

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47 thoughts on “The Girls of Canby Hall: Roommates

  1. Amber says:

    I always liked reading those kinds of things…but I probably would have had a complete break down if my parents had sent me to a boarding school.

    Damn those clothes are fug.

  2. Nathalie says:

    I loved Canby Hall so much more than SVH. Faith was my fave. Thanks for doing this.

    Hey if you liked boarding school stories so much, did you ever read Madeline L’Engles “And Both Were Young”? It’s not snarktastic at all, but it was the book that made me want to go to boarding school (in Europe) as a kid.

  3. Amber Tan says:

    I loved the Girls of Canby Hall. That cover brings its allll back.

    Does anyone here recall just how many books were in this series? I seem to remember there being around 30-33 titles that followed the characters long past their school days into adulthood.

  4. Nathalie says:

    I don’t know how many, but they did “reset” the books at some point, bringing a set of three new girls and a new housemother into the story to carry it on. But I think you’re right they did follow Dana, Faith and Shelly on past Canby Hall for a while.

  5. Beth says:

    The cover brought back memories for me, too! I loved this series! And I have to agree- if Shelley is chubby, I want to cry! I do remember the reset series, too, but I don’t remember any books following the original girls.

  6. Kates says:

    Never read these, but I also had a significant boarding school obsession as a kid (mine was also stemmed once I read Prep a few years back). The first story I ever wrote (or rather, dictated to my mother at the age of 4.5) took place in a boarding school with a mean nasty headmistress. 🙂

  7. Chance0508 says:

    Erm…I believe I have this entire series (possibly minus one that was eaten by a cat). It follows the first three roommates until graduation, then picks up with the next three (Boston Blueblood, Texas Tomboy, and Chicago Girl), with the occasional visit from Dana, Faith, and Shelley. There are even a few Super Editions. I have to confess, I liked the second set of girls a bit better. If you’d like a guest reporter, drop me an e-mail.

  8. Nathalie says:

    Yeah I was dead set on disliking the second set of girls, but they were great. They fit the previous mould, but weren’t exact. Oh I hope we have more. All my my love is coming back!

  9. Amber Tan says:

    “they did “reset” the books at some point, bringing a set of three new girls and a new housemother into the story to carry it on”

    Thanks for confirming, Nathalie! 🙂

    “Erm…I believe I have this entire series (possibly minus one that was eaten by a cat).”

    I am pea-green with envy, Chance0508. And your plans for recapping are…? 😉

  10. Merrie says:

    I’m glad I wasn’t the only one obsessed with going to boarding school. I actually applied and was accepted to one in Pennsylvania, but my parents said no when they saw the price. It was probably the right decision. I was also obsessed with being a camp counselor thanks to YA books and actually did it for a summer after my sophomore year in college. It sucked. One night another counselor figired out that our total summer pay equaled 18-cents an hour.

    I read Prep. Loved it. I didn’t care for her second book, The Man of My Dreams. But you have to give props to a UI Writer’s Workshop alum!

  11. Chance0508 says:

    Amber Tan, it’s ihatewheat’s call on this one. I do not want to deprive her of the joy of I Unlove during Shelley’s kidnapping (Faith HAVING to brush her teeth when her Roomate is Missing – per the title – after spending the night in the car? Oh, come on Faith! Shelley has been kidnapped, skip the dental hygiene for the day! Wait…that was Faith, wasn’t it?) Or the Dana Angst (TM) over, um, everything. How many times did they have to point out that Faith’s Father Died in the Line of Duty and Now She Can Not Love? And then there’s Shelley and her two boys. Y’know, for the token ‘chubby’ girl, she certainly got a lot of action.

    Sadly, I just did that all from memory and now I’m frightened.

  12. Amber Tan says:

    “Amber Tan, it’s ihatewheat’s call on this one. ”

    Then we shall have to defer to ihatewheat since we certainly do not want to deprive her of The Joy of I Unlove. And yes, I think it was Faith who was really into dental hygiene. IIRC there was mention made in every other book about her flossing or something.

    “How many times did they have to point out that Faith’s Father Died in the Line of Duty and Now She Can Not Love?”

    Eh. It’s still better than harping constantly about the character’s perfect size 6 figure…marginally. 😉

    “Sadly, I just did that all from memory and now I’m frightened.”

    There, there, Chance0508 — it’s OK. Let it all come up. [sympathetic patting on shoulder] The human memory is truly an amazing device. 🙂

  13. BadKat says:

    My parents threatened me with boarding school because I was a slightly naughty child ;). I pictured it being like military school or one of those out of control teen bootcamps. Or like Catholic school…I was frightened!! But not frightened enough to behave!!

    Thankfully, they never went through with it (or the Catholic school threats either); though I do not know why.

  14. Nathalie says:

    Yeah my parents constantly threatened me with Catholic school in my most rebellious years (even though we weren’t Catholic). Luckily they never made good on that threat.

  15. Amber Tan says:

    “Luckily they never made good on that threat.”

    Alas, mine did although it was the better option for me. (Our local public schools sucked phat rocks at the time.)

    I assure you that it’s nothing like the boarding schools featured in YA lit aside from having to wear a fugly uniform.

  16. Sue says:

    Did you ever hear of or read a YA book called “Is There Any Way Out of Sixth Grade”? I swear, I’m the only one who’s ever heard of this book. (My copy is even really suspicious looking – hardcover, plain blue with the title on the binding, it obviously had a jacket once that got lost somewhere along the way.) Anyway, it’s a great book about girls in boarding school. (I remember that they’re studying the revolutionary war in school and at one point the girls all sneak out to meet boys and end up having a snowball fight while playing the roles of Washington and Cornwallis.) I loved it, and it was the book that made me think boarding school was all that.

  17. CES says:

    my favorite boarding school books were the Canadian series by Gordon Korman about MacDonald Hall and the girls’ school Miss Scrimmages. The “ladies” of Scrimmages were so crazy I always wished I was a part of that!

  18. Nathalie says:

    Oh CES I loved Gordon Korman. He was such a hilarious writer. I used to routinely laugh out loud when reading his books.

  19. Eli says:

    I LOVED these books…although I also liked the second set of girls better. My faves were the Super Editions when all six were around though…the one where Alison gets married and the one where she had triplets.

  20. Chance0508 says:

    Allison gets action. The triplets would be proof of said action.

    Prior to that, however, she and Dana go after the same man. Because working at an all girl school is a risky profession for any man who is not old, very married, or grotesque.

  21. Anne says:

    This is my *favorite* teen series! I have all the books too, although I have to confess that I could *not* stand the second set of girls.

    I thought it would be so cool to paint my bedroom black after reading this book. Sadly, my parents did not agree .

    I wish these books got the same amount of press as SVH and BSC (their appearance on the www is seriously lacking) because they are that good!

  22. Jessie Mae says:

    Oh man, I loved those books. Now I have to see if I can get my hands on some of them.

    I was also sure I would love boarding school (never went, thankfully) and was similarly obsessed with summer camp (went, hated it, and yet went again at my own request many times, always hating it).

  23. aaaames says:

    Oh I used to love these! I do remember even as a kid though that it was really hard for me to find these, and I only had a few scattered titles from the bookstore. Of course there was one where Faith (I think?) has some sort of HEALTH CRISIS so I was all over that. What was wrong with me, geez?

  24. Katee says:

    I loved these books!

    My school library had them and I would read about one a day during school. I always wished that I got to go to a boarding school. Especially when I was homesick my first year of college.

    Of course now I realize I would have been eaten alive or turned into one of them.

    Has anyone else read the quote by Tilda Swinton about how she disapproves of Harry Potter because it glamorizes boarding schools for Americans.

  25. maybeimamazed02 says:

    I never read this series, but I wish I had…sounds really good!

    I too was obsessed with the idea of summer camp–until I actually went. Ugh–latrines, not for me, thanks.

    Amber Tan–I am a fellow Catholic school survivor. I agree, nothing like boarding school. I actually didn’t mind our uniforms so much (no ugly plaid after sophomore year), and it was better than the trashilicious public school in my small town.

    Yay for the Prep shout-out! What an amazing book. I read it during my third year of law school (which scarily has some parallels to boarding school) and totally identified with Lee.

  26. Leatt says:

    Did they mention drinking Tab soda in these books. I didn’t read very many of them when I was younger and for some reason while I was reading the recap I remember the characters drinking Tab. Unless I’m thinking about a different book series.

  27. Laura says:

    Gordon Korman was TOO awesome. I don’t think Burno and Boots could be snarked. Korman was only in seventh grade when he wrote the first book in the series. He’s still writing, as far as I know.

  28. Katy says:

    Liked these books a lot. Does anyone know if we ever found out the reason for Toby’s teabag from the ceiling (second set of girls)?

  29. MaggieCat says:

    I only read one of the Canby Hall books (4’s a Crowd was the title, I think) because I could never find any others at the library, but I remember thinking how much more normal all of the girls seemed compared to the SV cast.

    Did everyone here have a boarding school obsession as a child? Is it some sort of Sweet Valley side effect or something? Yes, I did too. I did not, however, have any dreams of camp; in fact when they made us all go to camp in the 6th grade, I tried desperately to convince my parents to write a letter getting me out of it.

    I believe I suggested telling the school my religion forbid going anywhere without central heating and running water.

    For some reason I have neither forgiven nor ever deduced, my mother refused. So I ended up spending at least one whole day sleeping in the nurse’s cabin because I “had a migraine”. If “migraine” means “no damn way am I going to wade through a stream in the northern part of the Midwest in freaking November”.

  30. tinypants says:

    I’ve never read this series but really want to. I did read Prep — there were a lot of things I liked about it. I didn’t go to boarding school because the thought terrified me, but did go to a private day school, and could relate to a lot of the things she talked about (especially the characters’ clothing).

    One thing I hated about Prep though was the way social class was consistently depicted as linked to this mind/body dichotomy. Like the author can’t get over mentioning how many times the narrator’s roommate and roommate’s parents are soo bodily repressed, while her family is constantly and explicitly linked to the body (I viscerally hated the scene of the narrator and her younger sibling(s?) breathing garlic breath on each other, and wish I’d never read the sentence where she’s in the bathroom with her mother and her mother lets out a “low, sighing fart” or something like that).

    I feel like it’s crazy that even now an author would still feel like working or lower middle class people would inherently have this earthiness or closeness to the body or to nature. I thought it was weird that I never read any critics who mentioned this, even though a) the author is herself from a very privileged background and b) a lot of people complained about the book’s treatment of race.

    Sorry, that all sounded so serious! But it’s the end of the quarter for me so its hard to think of anything non-academically.

    I would say for anyone who likes current series and has a thing for boarding school, you’ve got to read “The It Girl” — the main character, Jenny, is much more interesting than in the “Gossip Girl” series, and herself has a huge boarding school fetish, so it’s fun reading it through her eyes, since she’s also impressed by like, the fancy buildings and cableknit sweaters and stuff.

    It’s much more enjoyable than “Private,” the other boarding school series currently on the market, which isn’t especially well written and combines the fish out of water lower class girl at boarding school thing with ridiculous murder/thriller kinds of plots.

  31. aaaames says:

    Tinypants, I totally agree about Prep. It also frustrated me because, class-wise, I was much closer to the narrator, but my parents NEVER would have been insulted if I tried to gain more culture and maturity. That was what they were trying to instill in me in the first place! Whenever she visited home, they were all OH GEEZ PUTTING ON AIRS or whatever, like, hey, if you were going to be so bothered by that crap, parents, maybe you shouldn’t have okayed the boarding school thing.

    I also honestly felt she was the most personality-lacking narrator I’ve read in some time.

    All that said? I still flew through that book.

  32. ihatewheat says:

    Just to jump in about Prep and whoever commented that the narrator was personality-less. That was something that first struck me, but realizing her lack of affect was part of her personality, in that her feeling of emptiness was part of her depression, and that emptiness is often a big part of that. The character of Hannah in her second book is also like that and is called out on it by the other characters.

  33. Treva says:

    Crazy that I came across this blog. I’m sitting by a stack of books from our internet book business and there’s a big stack of The Girls of Canby Hall. I’ve never even heard of the series and yet we have quite a few for sale. I will have to read it after the rave reviews. I was a Sweet Valley High junky but never read any other series than that one.

  34. emz says:

    Psst – Shelley wasn’t from the south – she was from Iowa. I remember this because being from the midwest and loving these books, I hated the way she was portrayed as a whiny little Snickers gorging wuss.

  35. eejm says:

    These books ruled! I had just about every book on the first set of girls. I had pretty much stopped reading them when the second set came into the picture.

    I did think it was strange that the girls’ entire senior year was wrapped up into one book, while sophomore and junior years were comprised of several books.

    Shelley’s (fictional) hometown was supposedly right outside my college (Iowa State University) town of Ames, IA. One of Shelley’s brothers attended ISU, and the author mentioned real buildings on campus. I’ve always been curious to know if she had some sort of connection to the school.

    And count me in on the boarding school obsession. I wanted to attend one in high school, mostly as an alternative to moving with my family before the ninth grade. I mentioned it to my mother on a few occasions, but was greeted with the “WTF?” stare every time.

  36. marie says:

    Canby Hall was a great series. It’s nice to hear other readers liked the books, too. For the first 17 books with Dana, Faith & Shelly I bought every one. Looking back, this series (and maybe also watching “The Facts of Life”) probably inspired me to choose a women’s college.

  37. ellen says:

    SO late on this — but I’m obsessed with boarding schools, too! Esp. stories about English boarding schools. Not really YA — but I was obsessed with the English author Enid Blyton. She had a great series of books set in boarding school called (don’t laugh) “The Naughtiest Girl

  38. sokaiu says:

    I have 7 books in this series in relatively good condition.

    #1 Roomates
    #5 Summer Blues
    #6 Best friends forever
    #10 Make me a star
    #11 With friends like that (more beat up)
    #17 Graduation day
    #18 Making friends [new girls arrive]

    Email me at sokaiu [at] yahoo [dot] com if interested.

  39. Colleen says:

    I wish I could find these books in ebook format. I LOVE them and bought a box off ebay a few months back but with my new nook I would love to re-read them all again and again. Loved this series but no one else I knew ever read them!

  40. Much says:

    As much as I loved the BSC, I loved the Girls of Canby Hall even more, but I knew no one else who was reading them! If only the Internet was around back then … but since it is now, I’m recapping the series. Love your blog!

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