20 Timeless Coming-of-Age Novels Everyone Should Read

Posted May 17, 2010

College is a time that’s a turning point in many people’s lives. You’re leaving adolescence behind and becoming the adult you’re going to be. Follow along as the characters in these novels face similar times of growth.

  1. Great Expectations: Pip is dramatically risen from the lower class to a life of leisure, while encountering confusing love along the way. Follow Pip as he learns to accept his station in life.
  2. My Sister’s Keeper: After being conceived to help her sick older sister, Anna sues her parents for the rights to her own body. Anna’s story considers an important moral and ethical medical dilemma.
  3. This Side of Paradise: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous book shows the story of a vain know it all who ends up knowing nothing. Amory Blaine’s journey finds love, humility, and more.
  4. The Secret Life of Bees: Lily Owens lives a neglected life without her mother, raised by her father and maid Rosaleen. A 14-year-old Lily discovers herself while in search of her mother’s past.
  5. The Harry Potter Series: This cultural phenomenon is beloved by young readers and adults alike. Rowling’s novels follow three characters from childhood to maturity in detail.
  6. Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl: Anne Frank’s diary was written during her adolescent years. This book tells the story of Anne’s typical teenage problems while in an enclosed space without privacy.
  7. The Perks of Being a Wallflower: Learn about passivity vs. passion in this book about Charlie, a high schooler on the fringes of life. This book takes an intimate look at what it’s like to grow up in high school.
  8. The Catcher in the Rye: Holden Caulfield shares his experiences when expelled from prep school. This book is great for teenagers who can relate to it and understand the narration.
  9. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Huckleberry Finn’s story is about the adventures of a young boy’s adventures. Follow his development throughout the novel.
  10. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter: This atypical coming of age novel follows four characters: a girl, a doctor, a deaf-mute, and a socialist. You’ll see the similarities in these very different characters as they grow emotionally.
  11. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: You’ll find a story of Catholic guilt and Irish nationalism in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The young man, Stephen, starts as a boy and gradually leads to a man, and a dabbler grow into an artist.
  12. To Kill a Mockingbird: Scout and Jem’s childhood innocence is threatened in this novel. Read this book to see how they maintain faith in good in light of evil.
  13. The Virgin Suicides: The Virgin Suicides takes a look at thwarted development in 60s to 70s Michigan. In this book, the Lisbon girls’ deaths tell a story of childhood and adolescence.
  14. Little Women: Louisa May Alcott’s book is about four sisters growing up in New England. You’ll see the struggle of women dealing with their character flaws throughout the novel.
  15. Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret: This book is a must for every girl’s collection. Read it to better understand the adolescent experience.
  16. The Lovely Bones: The Lovely Bones discusses Susie’s process of growing up, even in death. You’ll see her loss of innocence and the destruction of her false sense of security.
  17. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn takes you through Francie Nolan’s 11th through 16th years as a poor child in Brooklyn. It tells the story of learning the hard way how tough the world is, and how to find simple pleasures.
  18. How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents: The Garcia Girls are uprooted from the Dominican Republic to New York City. You’ll see their plunge into American mainstream culture as they leave behind their old genteel lives.
  19. The Joy Luck Club: Mahjong, food, and family experience are on the table in The Joy Luck Club. Learn about the lives of four Chinese American immigrant families as they play Mahjong together in this book.
  20. Dune: Paul Atreides and his family accept control of the desert planet Arrakis in this science fiction novel. It shows Paul’s growth among the politics, emotion, and forces of resources and planets.

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