Favourite Coming of Age Fiction
Updated: Jan 8
1. The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.
A brilliant magical realist tale of a boy's experiences from a traumagic summer, through the distorted, hallucinatory lense of memory.
2. Bridge of Clay – Markus Zusak The breathtaking story of five brothers who bring each other up in a world run by their own rules. As the Dunbar boys love and fight and learn to reckon with the adult world, they discover the moving secret behind their father’s disappearance.
At the center of the Dunbar family is Clay, a boy who will build a bridge—for his family, for his past, for greatness, for his sins, for a miracle.
3. Never Let me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro Hailsham seems like a pleasant English boarding school, far from the influences of the city. Its students are well tended and supported, trained in art and literature, and become just the sort of people the world wants them to be. But, curiously, they are taught nothing of the outside world and are allowed little contact with it.
Within the grounds of Hailsham, Kathy grows from schoolgirl to young woman, but it’s only when she and her friends Ruth and Tommy leave the safe grounds of the school (as they always knew they would) that they realize the full truth of what Hailsham is.
4. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath The Bell Jar chronicles the crack-up of Esther Greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, and successful, but slowly going under—maybe for the last time. Sylvia Plath masterfully draws the reader into Esther's breakdown with such intensity that Esther's insanity becomes completely real and even rational, as probable and accessible an experience as going to the movies. Such deep penetration into the dark and harrowing corners of the psyche is an extraordinary accomplishment and has made The Bell Jar a haunting American classic.
In this profound, brave, insightful, nuanced and at times frighteningly relatable novel Kate Elizabeth Russell explores the relationship between a precocious fifteen-year old and her charismatic but manipulative teacher, 46-years her senior. From the perspective of both teenage-Vanessa and her adult self, looking back, we explore the inner conflict, ruination and lifelong aftermath this affair brought.
6. Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is planned--from the layout of the winding roads, to the colors of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principle is playing by the rules.
Enter Mia Warren--an enigmatic artist and single mother--who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenaged daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past and a disregard for the status quo that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.
7. On Earth we’re Briefly Gorgeous – Ocean Vuong On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family's history that began before he was born — a history whose epicenter is rooted in Vietnam — and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation. At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity. Asking questions central to our American moment, immersed as we are in addiction, violence, and trauma, but undergirded by compassion and tenderness, On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous is as much about the power of telling one's own story as it is about the obliterating silence of not being heard.
8. The Unseen World – Liz Moore Ada Sibelius is raised by David, her brilliant, eccentric, socially inept single father, who directs a computer science lab in 1980s-era Boston. Home-schooled, Ada accompanies David to work every day; by twelve, she is a painfully shy prodigy. The lab begins to gain acclaim at the same time that David’s mysterious history comes into question. When his mind begins to falter, leaving Ada virtually an orphan, she is taken in by one of David’s colleagues. Soon she embarks on a mission to uncover her father’s secrets: a process that carries her from childhood to adulthood. What Ada discovers on her journey into a virtual universe will keep the reader riveted until The Unseen World’s heart-stopping, fascinating conclusion
9. The Museum of You – Carys Bray Clover Quinn was a surprise. She used to imagine she was the good kind, now she’s not sure. She’d like to ask Dad about it, but growing up in the saddest chapter of someone else’s story is difficult. She tries not to skate on the thin ice of his memories.
Darren has done his best. He's studied his daughter like a seismologist on the lookout for waves and surrounded her with everything she might want - everything he can think of, at least - to be happy.
What Clover wants is answers. This summer, she thinks she can find them in the second bedroom, which is full of her mother's belongings. Volume isn't important, what she is looking for is essence; the undiluted bits: a collection of things that will tell the full story of her mother, her father and who she is going to be. But what you find depends on what you're searching for.
10. Aquarium – David Vann Twelve-year-old Caitlin lives alone with her mother—a docker at the local container port—in subsidized housing next to an airport in Seattle. Each day, while she waits to be picked up after school, Caitlin visits the local aquarium to study the fish. Gazing at the creatures within the watery depths, Caitlin accesses a shimmering universe beyond her own. When she befriends an old man at the tanks one day, who seems as enamored of the fish as she, Caitlin cracks open a dark family secret and propels her once-blissful relationship with her mother toward a precipice of terrifying consequences.
11. Pet Sematary - Stephen King Creeds move into a beautiful old house in rural Maine, it all seems too good to be true: physician father, beautiful wife, charming little daughter, adorable infant son-and now an idyllic home. As a family, they've got it all...right down to the friendly car. But the nearby woods hide a blood-chilling truth-more terrifying than death itself-and hideously more powerful. The Creeds are going to learn that sometimes dead is better.
12. Vita Nostra - Marina and Sergey Dyachenko While vacationing at the beach with her mother, Sasha Samokhina meets the mysterious Farit Kozhennikov under the most peculiar circumstances. The teenage girl is powerless to refuse when this strange and unusual man with an air of the sinister directs her to perform a task with potentially scandalous consequences. He rewards her effort with a strange golden coin.
As the days progress, Sasha carries out other acts for which she receives more coins from Kozhennikov. As summer ends, her domineering mentor directs her to move to a remote village and use her gold to enter the Institute of Special Technologies. Though she does not want to go to this unknown town or school, she also feels it’s the only place she should be. Against her mother’s wishes, Sasha leaves behind all that is familiar and begins her education.
As she quickly discovers, the institute’s "special technologies" are unlike anything she has ever encountered. The books are impossible to read, the lessons obscure to the point of maddening, and the work refuses memorization. Using terror and coercion to keep the students in line, the school does not punish them for their transgressions and failures; instead, their families pay a terrible price. Yet despite her fear, Sasha undergoes changes that defy the dictates of matter and time; experiences which are nothing she has ever dreamed of . . . and suddenly all she could ever want.
1996 - Luca Saracino is thirteen and has been completely blind for eight months when his parents move to a Southern Italian farmhouse they dream of turning into a hotel. With his brother dropping out of university and the family reeling from Luca’s diagnosis, they are chasing dreams of rebirth and reinvention.
As Luca tells his story without sight - experiencing the world solely through hearing, smell, taste and touch - he meets the dauntless Ada Guadalupi, who takes him out to explore the rocky fields and empty beaches. But Luca and Ada find they can’t escape the grudges that have lasted between their families for generations, or the gossiping of the town. And Luca is preyed upon by the feral Wanderer, who walks the vineyards of his home.
As Luca's family starts to crack at the seams, Luca and Ada have to navigate new lands and old rivalries to uncover the truths spoken as whispers on the wind.
When Sara Foster runs away from home at sixteen, she leaves behind not only the losses that have shattered her world but the girl she once was, capable of trust and intimacy. Years later, in Los Angeles, she is a sought-after bartender, renowned as much for her brilliant cocktails as for the mystery that clings to her. Across the city, Emilie Dubois is in a holding pattern. In her seventh year and fifth major as an undergraduate, she yearns for the beauty and community her Creole grandparents cultivated but is unable to commit. On a whim, she takes a job arranging flowers at the glamorous restaurant Yerba Buena and embarks on an affair with the married owner.
When Sara catches sight of Emilie one morning at Yerba Buena, their connection is immediate. But the damage both women carry, and the choices they have made, pulls them apart again and again. When Sara's old life catches up to her, upending everything she thought she wanted just as Emilie has finally gained her own sense of purpose, they must decide if their love is more powerful than their pasts.
At once exquisite and expansive, astonishing in its humanity and heart, Yerba Buena is a love story for our time and a propulsive journey through the lives of two women finding their way in the world.
Young Adult Fiction
13. Strange Creatures - Phoebe North We follow the story of Jamie and Annie, an inseparable pair of siblings; basically twins except for their date of birth. Alike in almost every way, they promised to always take care of each other while facing the challenges of growing up different in suburban America. And when life became too much for them, they’d escape into their own space their house. A place they called Gumlea, where fantasy and reality merge together, and where nobody could find them.
Until Jamie disappears, and Annie is left behind… Unable to process any other faith for her brother, Annie becomes convinced that Jamie has escaped into Gumlea one final time, and she will do anything to follow him there, and bring him back.
Told from three separate perspectives, we witness the fallout of a tragedy on a family, friends and a small town community; from the harsh reality of growing up, to the stories we tell ourselves to keep going…
14. The Saturday Nights Ghost Club -Craig Davidson Growing up in 1980s Niagara Falls--a seedy but magical, slightly haunted place--Jake Baker spends most of his time with his uncle Calvin, a kind but eccentric enthusiast of occult artifacts and conspiracy theories. The summer Jake turns twelve, he befriends a pair of siblings new to town, and so Calvin decides to initiate them all into the "Saturday Night Ghost Club." But as the summer goes on, what begins as a seemingly lighthearted project may ultimately uncover more than any of its members had imagined. With the alternating warmth and sadness of the best coming-of-age stories, The Saturday Night Ghost Club examines the haunting mutability of memory and storytelling, as well as the experiences that form the people we become.
15. The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are taking to the streets in Khalil’s name. Some cops and the local drug lord try to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr.
But what Starr does—or does not—say could upend her community. It could also endanger her life.
Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, this is a powerful and gripping YA novel about one girl's struggle for justice.
You go through life thinking there’s so much you need…
Until you leave with only your phone, your wallet, and a picture of your mother.
Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friend, Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit, and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.
17. Like Water - Rebecca Podos In Savannah Espinoza’s small New Mexico hometown, kids either flee after graduation or they’re trapped there forever. Vanni never planned to get stuck—but that was before her father was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease, leaving her and her mother to care for him. Now, she doesn’t have much of a plan at all: living at home, working as a performing mermaid at a second-rate water park, distracting herself with one boy after another.
That changes the day she meets Leigh. Disillusioned with small-town life and looking for something greater, Leigh is not a “nice girl.” She is unlike anyone Vanni has met, and a friend when Vanni desperately needs one. Soon enough, Leigh is much more than a friend. But caring about another person stirs up the moat Vanni has carefully constructed around herself, and threatens to bring to the surface the questions she’s held under for so long.
18. A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness Conor has the same dream every night, ever since his mother first fell ill, ever since she started the treatments that don't quite seem to be working. But tonight is different. Tonight, when he wakes, there's a visitor at his window. It's ancient, elemental, a force of nature. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth.
While her grandmother was alive, Emma’s world was filled with enchantment. But now Gram is gone, and suddenly strange spots are appearing on Emma’s skin. Soon, she’s diagnosed with vitiligo—a condition that makes patches of her skin lose their color—and the magic in her world is suddenly replaced with school bullies and doctor appointments.
But when Emma writes one last story in the journal she shared with Gram, something strange happens. Someone writes back to her, just like Gram used to. Who’s writing to Emma? And just what is her story going to be, now that everything is so different?
20. My Jasper June - Laurel Snyder The school year is over, and it is summer in Atlanta. The sky is blue, the sun is blazing, and the days brim with possibility. But Leah feels. . . lost. She has been this way since one terrible afternoon a year ago, when everything changed. Since that day, her parents have become distant, her friends have fallen away, and Leah’s been adrift and alone.
Then she meets Jasper, a girl unlike anyone she has ever known. There’s something mysterious about Jasper, almost magical. And Jasper, Leah discovers, is also lost.
Together, the two girls carve out a place for themselves, a hideaway in the overgrown spaces of Atlanta, away from their parents and their hardships, somewhere only they can find. But as the days of this magical June start to draw to a close, and the darker realities of their lives intrude once more, Leah and Jasper have to decide how real their friendship is, and whether it can be enough to save them both
Julia has followed her mum and dad to live on a remote island for the summer – her dad, for work; her mother, on a determined mission to find the elusive Greenland shark. But when her mother’s obsession threatens to submerge them all, Julia finds herself on an adventure with dark depths and a lighthouse full of hope…
A beautiful, lyrical, uplifting story about a mother, a daughter, and love – with timely themes of the importance of science and the environment.
22. Hazel Bly and the Deep Blue Sea - Ashley Herring Blake Hazel Bly used to live in the perfect house with the perfect family in sunny California. But when a kayaking trip goes horribly wrong, Mum is suddenly gone forever and Hazel is left with crippling anxiety and a jagged scar on her face. After Mum's death, Hazel, her other mother, Mama, and her little sister, Peach, needed a fresh start. So for the last two years, the Bly girls have lived all over the country, never settling anywhere for more than a few months.
When the family arrives in Rose Harbor, Maine, there's a wildness to the small town that feels like magic. But when Mama runs into an old childhood friend—Claire—suddenly Hazel's tight-knit world is infiltrated. To make it worse, she has a daughter Hazel's age, Lemon, who can't stop rambling on and on about the Rose Maid, a local 150-year-old mermaid myth.
Soon, Hazel finds herself just as obsessed with the Rose Maid as Lemon is—because what if magic were real? What if grief really could change you so much, you weren't even yourself anymore? And what if instead you emerged from the darkness stronger than before?
23. Wise Child - Monica Furlong In a remote Scottish village, nine-year-old Wise Child is taken in by Juniper, a healer and sorceress. Then Wise Child's mother, Maeve, a black witch, reappears. In choosing between Maeve and Juniper, Wise Child discovers the extent of her supernatural powers--and her true loyalties.