Coming-of-age is hard to do
As the calendar flipped over to a new month, spring is poking its head around the corner to see if it’s safe to come out. In my part of the world, we may still get snow, but we know it won’t last. Snowbanks are melting, the grass in my front yard is visible for the first time in months, and the morning doves have returned to annoy the neighbors down the street.
With the arrival of spring, I thought it was timely to turn to the world of hormones and first loves. Trying to find your place in the world is hard. Growing up can feel like an impossible task — it’s no wonder so many of us try to put it off! But like it or not, we all have to grow up at some point, and as the best coming-of-age books prove — despite the challenges of this transitional period — we usually emerge in one piece.
The coming-of-age genre is a fascinating one as there is such a wealth of stories to mine. Here are four, fairly new novels, that provide a range of unforgettable characters you’ll fall in love with as they feel their way through the tumultuous transition of childhood.
Victory City by Salman Rushdie
A new novel from Rushdie is always a major event, now more than ever. Leap into Victory City, one of his very best, and discover a fantastical world constructed of duplicitous kings and queens. In 14th century South India, the newly orphaned 9-year-old Pampa is granted powers by a goddess to envision a city “into being with nothing more than a bunch of seeds and a few days of whispering." With dramatic flair and magical storytelling, Rushdie charts the rise and fall of this wonder of the world through the epic chronicle Pampa composes (she lives to be 247 years old!) of the raucous history of Bisnaga.
I have some questions for you by Rebecca Makkah
Boarding school is often fertile ground for a novel. Bodie Kane, a successful California podcaster, is invited back for a teaching gig at the New Hampshire school where her roommate was murdered 25 years before. She was always dubious about the guilt of the Black man they put in prison. The can of worms Bodie opens disturbs the peace of many of the characters involved. Makkai writes deftly of each one of them—who they were then and now—reminding us of the many solved and unsolved cases of teenage girls’ deaths. As ever, Makkai is superb at depositing an ensemble of characters into politically charged circumstances.
Sink: A Memoir by Joseph Earl Thomas
At seven, “Joey” takes over his sister’s Easy Bake Oven, wraps himself in toilet paper as a Mummy for Halloween and keeps tabs on all the people he’d like to die. In this memoir, growing up a Black boy in Philadelphia in the 90s becomes vivid as we meet Joey’s extended family, including his crack-smoking mother. Of the voice he has chosen, Thomas has said, “Third person, and then second became the most valuable way to explore childhood uninterrupted, and then to bring someone else as close into that world as might be possible towards its termination.” Here is autobiography that reads like the best fiction.
Abyss by Pilar Quintana
Quintana is an award-winning novelist who captures the world of an eight-year-old girl living in '80s Cali, Columbia with remarkable perception. Though she is growing up in relative comfort, Claudia’s family is unstable. Her unhappy mother reads popular magazines and is having an affair; her father is always working and not a big communicator. Claudia worries that she will be abandoned by her parents and her beloved tía. The title refers to that dark place a child fears might envelope her. Quintana crystallizes the emotions and insecurities of an adolescent who is yet to comprehend the actions of adults even as she witnesses their behavior.
If you're turned on by the genre, check out this list of novels considered some of the greatest coming-of-age books ever written. lithub.com/the-50-greatest-coming-of-age-novels/
Spring is coming, my friends. Keep hopeful, keep letting me know about the books you love.
In the meantime, happy reading!
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