A Coming-of-Age Time of Year
What better time of year for reading a coming-of-age novel than the height of spring? As the days turn warmer and the far edge of spring becomes the beginning of summer, here are a few titles in our collection that may help you to grow with the world and see it in a whole new way.
1. “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie
In his first young adult novel, Sherman Alexie offers a heartfelt tale filled with real charm and experience. Centering on dorky teenage cartoonist, Arnold Spirit (aka Junior), the story explores the concepts of community, privilege, and of course self-discovery as Arnold leaves his impoverished school on the Spokane Indian Reservation to join a much wealthier and whiter school in nearby Reardan. With equal measures of humor and sentiment, the novel follows Arnold through the ups and downs of seeking one’s own destiny beyond the stereotypes and experiences that divide people, as well as the commonalities and customs that connect them.
2. “Push” by Sapphire
Within the pages of her first novel, Sapphire offers an immensely moving story about a sixteen-year-old girl named Precious, whose struggle for independence and purpose becomes a gritty testament to the powers of education and love. The victim of an incestuous rape by her father and the physical and mental abuse of her mother, Precious lives silenced by the harshness of her existence in Harlem. Compelled towards a better life for herself and her child, Precious comes into contact with Miss Rain, a woman who mentors her towards literacy and eventually self-discovery. Expressed through the journal entries of Precious as she learns how to read and write, the novel provides the story of one young woman’s journey to find her voice and with it the freedom to be herself.
3. “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee
No list of coming-of-age novels would be complete without mentioning Harper Lee’s book, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” A Pulitzer Prize winner and classic of the genre, Lee’s “Mockingbird” is the story of young Scout Finch and her brother Jem, as they face the realities of a racially tense south. Full of exuberance and innocence, Scout is a typical tomboy, just living out the simple adventures of summer in a small town. But when her father, Atticus, takes the job of defending a black man accused of raping a white woman, she suddenly starts to understand things about her world she had never even noticed before. As a hopeful and honest narrative that effortlessly moves between the carefree and the profound, it is obvious why “To Kill a Mockingbird” has come to define the coming-of-age genre so completely.
4. “Siddhartha: An Indian Tale” by Hermann Hesse
Though perhaps not often considered a typical coming-of-age tale, Hesse’s “Siddhartha” presents the search for enlightenment as the basis for what it is to come of age. Simplistic yet compelling, it is a story about a young man named Siddhartha who traverses the restlessness, attachment, and illusion of the material world, before attaining oneness with his existence through the teachings of Vasudeva the ferryman. Through this story, Hesse explores the connection between what it is to come of age and the growth and fulfillment of one’s spiritual being. An enigmatic tale, the book stimulates growth in the reader as much as in the protagonist.
5. “The Outsiders” by S. E. Hinton
Another classic coming-of-age tale, S. E. Hinton’s novel, “The Outsiders”, is the story of a young boy torn apart upon a world split in two. On one side there are the socs, and on the other side are the greasers. Told from the perspective of a young greaser named Ponyboy Curtis, the story details the events following a tragic night where Ponyboy witnesses his fellow greaser, Johnny, kill a rival soc. Progressing through shades of friendship and heartbreak, victory and loss, the book’s tension builds to a final violent clash, and a sobering end, that shows Ponyboy there is deeper human experience out there for those willing to see what is outside the lines that divide us.
6. “City of Thieves” by David Benioff
Benioff’s “City of Thieves” not only provides a fascinating view of the Russian defense of Leningrad during World War II, but it also presents one boy’s journey to manhood through the war-torn desolation of that city under siege. After being caught illegally looting the corpse of a dead German paratrooper, the novel’s protagonist, Lev, is certain he is to be executed for the offense. Instead, he and another prisoner, an ostentatious soldier named Kolya, are tasked with the impossible: find a dozen eggs within a city being deprived of even the most basic resources. Amidst a backdrop of war, suspense, and oppressive depravity, Lev comes to witness firsthand what it takes to survive in a world marred by the dissolution of man’s baser nature.
7. “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” by Jonathan Safran Foer
A heart-wrenching tale of one boy’s journey to acceptance through the grief stricken landscape of post-9/11 New York, Foer’s “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” seeks to find understanding amidst an often chaotic and unfathomable world. Following its precocious protagonist, Oskar Schell, as he seeks a lock to fit the mysterious key his deceased father left behind, the story manages to both sober and endear us to the new reality we find ourselves in. In true coming-of-age fashion, the answers never come easy, but Oskar’s trust and hope help guide us to see that even a terror-filled world can contain wonder.
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