Navigating the Long and Winding Road: 9 Coming-of-Age Novels
by Liz Lesnick
Even in our seemingly more open, accepting, wired world, teens continue to ask the eternal questions: Who am I? Who do I want to be? How do I fit in?
And while they may be seeking answers, teens usually don’t want to hear them from their parents or anyone over eighteen for that matter. This is where books continue to play a vital role. These selections address issues of sexual identity, drug use, race, appearance, and, of course, love. I hope they help the teens you love navigate this exciting, tumultuous time in their lives.
The House on Mango Street
When I asked my daughter about The House on Mango Street, she admitted that she really liked it even though she had to read it for school — high praise from an opinionated teen! Sandra Cisneros tells the story of Esperanza Cordero, a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago, through a series of vignettes — sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes joyous. Readers will laugh, cry, and cheer as they accompany Esperanza on her journey to adulthood.
Black Boy White School
As racial issues continue to dominate the headlines, airwaves, and the Web, many parents (myself included) grapple with how to discuss race with our kids. I suggest having your family read Black Boy White School. When 14-year-old Anthony "Ant" Jones from the ghetto of East Cleveland, Ohio, leaves home to go to prep school in Maine, he learns that it’s not only hard to fit in at school, going back home also presents its own challenges.
Darius & Twig
Meet Darius and Twig — unlikely best friends: Darius is a writer whose only escape is his alter ego, a peregrine falcon named Fury, and Twig is a runner striving for athletic success. But they are drawn together to overcome the obstacles that life in Harlem throws at them. Readers of all kinds will be absorbed by this powerful tale of two friends determined to succeed and flourish beyond their neighborhood.
Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez, Ariana Grande … everywhere teens turn they see “perfect” young women. And no matter how strong the girl, this constant barrage can take its toll. Enter Hayley, heroine of Pretty Face, a smart, funny, definitely not-skinny teen who feels doomed to be everyone’s funny friend amid the sea of blondes at her Southern California high school. Then Hayley goes to Italy for the summer where she’s admired for her curves and finds first love. Girls will adore this empowering, entertaining story of amore!
The Glass Castle: A Memoir
I didn’t include The Glass Castle on the first draft of this list, but then my daughter borrowed it from her school library and couldn’t put it down. She found Walls’s story of her unconventional childhood as compelling and harrowing as I did. Once she finished, we had an impromptu mother-daughter book club comparing notes about what had impressed, moved, and shocked us. We agreed that Walls had given us a new appreciation for what we had and were astounded by her resilience.
Go Ask Alice
More than Forever, Scruples, or Flowers in the Attic, Go Ask Alice was the book that I didn’t want my mother to catch me reading. I was sure if she did, she would think that I had a drug problem. Ironically, I hope that my daughter does read it, but if I recommend it, she probably won’t. This first-person account of a teenage girl's descent into drug addiction still packs a punch.
Two Boys Kissing
Based on true events — Two Boys Kissing follows Harry and Craig, two 17-year-olds who are about to take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record. While the two increasingly dehydrated and sleep-deprived boys are locking lips, they become a focal point in the lives of other teens dealing with universal questions of love, identity, and belonging.
I’ll Give You the Sun
I wasn’t surprised to see this novel on the top of my daughter’s holiday gift list. After all, her BFF texted her that this book was, “sooooooooo good [followed by many exclamation points and emoji], u have to get it!” John Green fans will devour this beautifully constructed story of first love, family, loss, and betrayal told from different points in time, and in separate voices, by Jude and her twin brother Noah.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
This book tops the “read-it-before-you-see-it” list that I gave my daughter at the beginning of the school year. Stephen Chbosky’s pitch perfect novel about what it’s like to travel through the uncharted territory of high school has deservedly become a contemporary classic.