One of the characters in my forthcoming novel The Ark is fifteen year old Roscoe. I feel for Roscoe, coming of age in such a hostile world – inheriting a planet which seems doomed, and in order to survive, having to retreat into a bunker with a group of strangers, and no one else his own age. But, all the best coming-of-age stories involve hardship. Here are ten of my favourites:
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Jem and Scout learn a lot about prejudice and justice in this classic and much-loved tale of racism in a small town.
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
Though we often think of coming-of-age stories being about teenagers, in the modern world it seems many people don’t really come of age until much later, and that’s certainly the case for the characters in Eugenides book, who we see struggling to work out their path through life after leaving university.
This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff
The brilliant memoir of Wolff’s difficult adolescence with abusive stepfathers, the dedication reads: My first stepfather used to say that what I didn’t know would fill a book. Well, here it is.
Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon
Chabon’s characters come of age even later than Eugenides – in this book anyway. Grady Tripp is in his forties and has not got his shit together whatsoever and it makes for some hilarious misadventures involving unwanted pregnancies, drug overdoses, drag queens, stolen cars and lost manuscripts.
Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey
Silvey says this book was heavily inspired by To Kill a Mockingbird & it certainly has some of the same ingredients, including crime and racial prejudice in a small town, but it has a voice all its own – one of my favourite Australian books ever.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
I don’t know how the heck you say this guy’s surname so I try to avoid talking about this book but it’s become a bit of a cult classic in its evocation of navigating the treacherous waters of late adolescence: friendship, drugs, sex, The Smiths and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The movie adaptation wasn’t bad at all either.
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
This is the second top ten list I’ve made which contains not one but two books by Eugenides. He’s pretty good, I guess! The tale of a child born with the characteristics of both sexes has an utterly original take on the idea of coming of age.
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
This was my favourite book of last year. Again, it tackles issues of race and justice but in a very contemporary way. A 13 year old Native American boy is catapulted into adulthood after his mother is the victim of a heinous crime and it appears justice is not going to be served.
We the Animals by Justin Torres
Also a memoir, this is a raw emotional and linguistically startling book about sibling rivalry and growing up poor in a Puerto Rican family in America in the 1980s.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
There’s perhaps no faster way to grow up than to be placed into an arena and told to kill or be killed, as Katniss Everdeen discovers in this trilogy which really needs no introduction.
Your turn: What are your favourite coming of age stories? Have you read any of these?