What Makes a Good “Coming of Age” Story?

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme, hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books & Dani @ Literary Lion, where we discuss certain topics, share our opinions, and spread the love by visiting each others’ posts.

I have never given a great deal of thought to “coming of age” stories. I am drawn to books that focus on character growth, but that can happen to a character at any age. The term “coming of age” is quite vague, so I decided to look up its meaning and will share it with you here:

coming-of-age story is a genre of literature, film, and video that focuses on the growth of a protagonist from youth to adulthood (“coming of age”). Coming-of-age stories tend to emphasize dialogue or internal monologue over action, and are often set in the past. The subjects of coming-of-age stories are typically teenagers.

When I think of this particular type of book, my mind instantly goes to classics like The Catcher in the Rye and The Outsiders, but I think that the majority of YA novels can fall into this category. The teenage years are all about find yourself and coming into your own, and many of the YA novels I have read have elements of that experience. A few that stand out to me are I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Far From the Tree by Robin Benway, and With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo, which also happen to be three of my all time favourite YA novels.

What makes these books so special is the fact that no one character’s journey to adulthood is the same, which is also reflective of the experience of real teenagers. That is why diversity within the genre is so important. I truly believe in the power of books, and it is imperative that a teenager can pick up a book and see themselves reflected in the story. Everyone wants to feel seen and understood, especially teenagers. It is also just as important that teenagers (and people of all ages!) read about experiences that are different from their own. That is how we grow, gain empathy, and simply become better, more well-rounded individuals.

The journey to adulthood is messy, complicated, full of mistakes and heartache, but it can also be really wonderful. It is always refreshing to me when YA books capture that feeling. I personally see this more in YA contemporary, as that is my preferred genre of YA; however, all genres have the potential to be classified as “coming of age” stories. For example, Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko is a YA fantasy novel that also happens to be one of my favourite books of the year, and the character growth is what made me fall in love with the story and what made it memorable to me.

I realize that I have focused on YA in this discussion, but I do think that there are adult books that could be considered “coming of age” stories. Sally Rooney’s novels instantly come to mind!

Why Normal People's Sally Rooney is the hottest novelist around | EW.com

I think readers of all ages are drawn to “coming of age” stories because it is like reading about something that we have all been through. Though everyone’s path to adulthood is unique, the feelings that teenagers deal with are more or less universal, which makes it easier to empathize and form connections with the characters in this type of novel.

What is your favourite “coming of age” story?

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18 thoughts on “What Makes a Good “Coming of Age” Story?

  1. For now, two books come to mind. Sophie Gonzales’ Only Mostly Devastated and Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger. The latter I only skimmed through for my Masters, will read it soon.

      1. Same here! I hated the book and no one in the class agreed with me (they all thought it was amazing and the best book ever), but I’m pretty sure I’m one of the few that read it cover to cover.

  2. I wholeheartedly agree! when I read from different backgrounds and ethnicities, it allows me insight that Otherwise I may not have access to. Similarly, when I pick up a book by Elizabeth Acevedo, I find myself instantly connecting to her characters & family upbringings as a Latinx woman myself. I’m also BEYOND excited to see some of our YA Fantasy get more depth to them, I personally cannot wait to read Raybearer 🙂

    Happy reading! <3

  3. You made great points in this post, Kristin!! So true! I can’t say I’ve read a whole lot of coming-of-age books, but now I’ll certainly be on the look out for I completely agree with you on their importance. Thanks for the post!

  4. A wonderful coming of age story that I read a couple years ago is Petit Pays, the english version is Small Country, by Gael Faye. The book is loosely based on the author’s life growing up in Burundi with an African mother and French father. The story opens with amusing scenes from an idyllic childhood, not unlike what you’d find in a Mark Twain novel, but the ravages of the nearby Rwandan genocide spill into neighboring Burundi, upsetting the main character’s bucolic world. The book won the Prix Goncourt for young adult fiction in 2016–France’s top literary prize.

  5. Great discussion!
    I think books like With the Fire on High are great examples of good Coming of age stories!


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