As young readers, books can greatly influence us as we carry them with us into adulthood. Some of the best books help us transition from innocence to understanding. They touch our hearts with their poignant observations about the time in all of our lives where things get real, and we begin to turn into the kinds of people we will grow up to be. These books hold a special place in my heart because of how they gracefully spoke to my soul and either brought me into adulthood or reminded me of the transformative time in my youth.
1. Peter and Wendy by J.M. Barrie
A boy who never wants to grow up and a girl who has to. Barrie gives a story and a setting that explores the simple truths about childhood. We all want to hold onto our carefree innocence and live in a world of fantasy, but the sad, bittersweet truth is that the real world is waiting for us, and we can’t hold onto our childhoods forever. We must grow up, but hopefully we don’t loose sight of what it means to be a child.
2. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
This is one of those books that I read in the midst of loosing my own childhood innocence. Looking back, I was rather insulated from the problems of the world. Don’t get me wrong, I had my share of hardships, but The Outsiders was there to help open my eyes to some of the darker truths about the world and the existence of harsher realities for other young adults. It felt gentle, yet honest, to see the world through the eyes of ponyboy, a young man who grew up in conditions much different than my own.
3. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Growing up is confusing, scary, and, oftentimes, impossibly jarring. Eugenides is an expert at telling a tale that is different than most and gives lines of connection for you to not only feel for the character, but experience the world through their pair of eyes.
4. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
Again, Eugenides writes a coming of age story that jolts the reader and the characters into the dark realities of the world. Staring across the street at the pretty neighbor girls, we, along with our narrator, have our eyes opened to the darkest ways of growing up.
5. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
This book is an all too common story that is not told enough. Secrets are hidden from the world and the reader is kept guessing from beginning to end. Sexual violence at a tender age brings the narrator out of her innocence in one of the most traumatic ways imaginable. It is the silent suffering, the secrets one holds tightly to, that often carry us, all on our own, into adulthood.
6. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
One doesn’t have to wonder how Sylvia Plath so convincingly writes of a mental disorder and the lonely, confusing realities of mental illness carrying us into adulthood. Plath paints this story all too realistically. Fall down into insanity and out of innocence with The Bell Jar.
7. The Perks Of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Less shocking, but so very real, Chbosky paints what coming of age is like for a more average character, one that we can all find a bit of ourselves in. For a novel so short, there is so much said about what it means to be a teenager who is turning into an adult. Our brains, bodies, and emotions undergo dramatic change. How can growing up ever be easy?
8. The Giver by Lois Lowry
Lowry paints a dystopian world that demonstrates what it is like to grow up in the midst of shadows. Beginning with no information, no understanding of what the world really is, you are flooded with memories and stories that will drastically change how you see everything. Life becomes less simplistic and can feel like a fight to survive, a constant battle over what you know and what you know you’re missing.
Whether a coming of age book hits home, resembling your life exactly or is so far worse than the dramas you are so tightly wound in, reading about this moment in our lives helps us understand the world and ourselves. Better yet, it teaches us that we are not alone. Everyone goes through this period, either in drastic, damaging ways or in silent, draining ways. We all can understand that this time in life can bring you down to your knees, make you feel alone, and send you off into the world feeling naked and afraid. The good news is, we aren’t by ourselves.
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