As one of the youngest employees of the library, I have the great learning opportunity of not always being as grown-up as I'd like to be.
Fortunately, this tumultuous transition is also a major source of inspiration in literature. Coming-of-age books are wondrous, heartbreaking, revolutionary, obnoxious, and more often than not, fun. These books tend to stay with us because they articulate how we grow up. They give us a voice.
As someone who is still stubbornly right at the beginning of adulthood, I compiled a list of my favorite coming-of-age books for when I'm not feeling as grown-up as I'd like to be.
I like to think of JANE EYRE as THE coming-of-age story or at least MY coming-of-age story. This achingly romantic novel is about a young orphan who, despite a malicious world and an abundance of external pressures, grows up to be a good person. Maybe that's an oversimplification, but Jane's Lionheart and her courage to choose herself makes me brave. If you can’t get the things in life that you want, can you be the person that you want to be? Can you still choose to be the person you want to be even when all of the options are terrible? The answer is a brutal yet joyous YES!
YEAR OF YES
Shonda Rhimes, the creator of my favorite, not-so-guilty-pleasure TV shows, GREY’S ANATOMY and SCANDAL, commits to say, "yes" to everything that scares her for one year. I thought this might be easy for an award-winning TV Writer whose characters dance it out, stand in the sun, and tell me to be my own person. But the things she was most scared of are the very same fears that emerge while growing up. She is afraid of being seen; she is scared of failing. Shonda didn't know she was worthy of yes and was hiding from the life that would make her happy. Essentially, YEAR OF YES is a book about getting out of your comfort zone.
HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX
When we read Harry Potter, we get to watch children learn what it means to be adults. We learn that you can do anything with a bit of brains, courage, and kindness. The Order of the Phoenix is my particular favorite. At 10 years old, this book without a happy ending made sense to me. It showed the darker side to growing up; that it’s hard and often tragic, but worthwhile. Also, I want it etched into my gravestone that each and every single one of Harry James Potter’s outbursts in this book was justified and necessary.
This book continues to shock me. It's a subverted Cinderella story about a young girl in dire circumstances who says, “no” to the prince who comes to save her. Ultimately, it’s not a romance. MANSFIELD PARK is not a story about Fanny Price falling in love. It’s the story of a shy, passive girl who says, "No," to the people who would take advantage of her. Reading about Fanny, I learn that strength comes from choosing your own destiny and realizing you can, in fact, have what you truly want. No matter how shy or scared you are, you don’t need to just accept the way things are in your life.
ANNE OF GREEN GABLES
Lucy Maud Montgomery
I love reading about Anne Shirley. She feels like a force of nature. She's so glorious with her large and messy personality that knocks up against everything and gets her into to trouble. Despite all of Anne's faults and mistakes, Her growth into an adult didn’t mean becoming quieter or shrinking herself. Growing into an adult meant she learned how to tackle life’s mistakes. She didn’t have to sacrifice herself to grow into the woman she wanted to be.
ADULTING: HOW TO BECOME A GROWN-UP IN 468 EASY(ISH) STEPS
Kelly Williams Brown
This book is specifically for people who really need to act like adults, but are like me and don't know the first place to start. This book acts as an encyclopedia for everything you’ve ever seen an adult do but weren’t sure how to do yourself. It answers the questions I actually want to know about life: How do I wash all my cardigans? How can I keep my casual existential dread from ruining all my relationships? What is a tax return? And it offers reassurance and tough love without any of the condescendion.
What coming-of-age books do you read when growing up is too hard?