Growing up can be challenging, add a pandemic to the mix and you have a true challenge. Our kids are facing uncertain times and coming of age stories teach kids how to face difficult times and persevere. This genre is like gifting your kid a best friend who they can continuously circle back to reread. Coming of age novels are a great anecdote to those deep growing pains as your teen transitions towards adulthood on top of managing the day to day life in a pandemic.
The beauty of coming of age novels is that they maintain their relevance and importance regardless of the time period. I’ve compiled a list of a few of my favorites beginning with the book my daughter is currently reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. What books would you add to the list?
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith is a semi-autobiographical novel set during the first two decade of the 20th century in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The story follows the life of Francie Nolan and her Irish immigrant family as they navigate extreme poverty, alcoholism, death, relationships and where she learns to be strong as nails like her mother.
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang is a graphic novel that weaves three separate tales into one. It begins with the legendary folk tale of Sun Wukong (The Monkey King) from a classic Chinese folktale. The second tale is the story of a first generation immigrant family who moves from Chinatown to an all white suburb and the protagonist has trouble fitting in. It is here that the first two stories come into play creating a ethnic coming of age story that also looks at cultural and ethnic identity.
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank is her journal that was found by her father after she died in a concentration camp at age fifteen in Nazi Germany. Her journal covers the period of her family’s hiding in an attic with another family for two years beginning when Anne was 13.
Brown Girl, Brownstones by Paule Marshall was first published in 1959. It tells the story of a Barbadian immigrant family in Brooklyn.
Crossing the Wire by Will Hobbs tells the story of a Mexican teen desperate to support his family as they struggle in abject poverty after his father’s death. He decides to travel to the United States to work like his father had from Mexico.
Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson tells the story of Frannie and how she navigates race, religion, disability, and friendship in this story set in an urban all black school with a new white boy in the early 1970s.
Fifteen by Beverly Cleary is Cleary’s 1950s story about falling in love for the first time.
Funny in Farsi by Firoozeh Dumes is the story of a young girl who immigrates from Iran to California. The story is narrated through her very funny eyes.
Go Tell It To the Mountain by James Baldwin is based off of an old Black spiritual. It tells the story of the fourteenth birthday of John Grimes set in 1935 Harlem. The story uses flashbacks to include the characters grandparent’s experiences as slaves in the south.
Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson is a story that celebrates the healing and help a group of six middle schoolers are able to provide one another during a weekly meeting without adults through the act of sharing their stories.
Locomtion & Peace, Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson tells the story of 12 year old Lonnie who is in foster care apart from his younger sister. He decides his job is “rememberer” and sets about to chronicle their lives.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding tells the story of a group of British prep school boys who are stranded on an uninhabited island and they attempt to govern themselves. Conch tales are in abundance.
Night by Elie Wiesel is Wiesel’s account of his time with his father in Nazi Germany concentrations camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald.
Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper was gifted to my daughter by her friend who has cerebral palsy. This is the story of Melody who has CP and is treated as less than intelligent or equal by her classmates, teachers and doctors but she decides to make sure they understand she isn’t defined or cognitively limited by cerebral palsy.
Red Scarf Girl by Ji-li Jiang is a historical memoir about the cultural revolution of China in the late 1960s. In 1966, 12 year old Ji-li is a popular kid in Communist China until the revolution begins. People she had thought were friends turned on her family and her father was imprisoned.
Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead is set in the mid 1980s in Sag Harbor, an exclusive and very wealthy area of the Hamptons. The story’s main character Benji is an African American teen spending the summer within a black enclave of a predominately white and close knit town and reaches issues of race, class, and commercialism.
Shooting Kabul by N.H. Senzai tells the story of 12 year old Fadi’s family illegally fleeing Taliban controlled Afghanistan on an underground transport for the United States in the summer of 2001.
The Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac tells the story of Navajo code breakers who played a critical role in the success of the US military during WW2. The story is told through a 16 year old Navajo boy’s journey as a code talker.
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas tells the story of a young girl who witnesses her best friend get shot by the police. Her best friend was an unarmed kid.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins tells the story of sixteen year old Katniss as she battles twelve other children from various regions to the death on live TV.
The Outsiders by SE Hinton tells the story of Ponyboy and his brothers about their lives as greasers versus rival gangs that are based on socio-economic status.
The Watsons Go To Birmingham-1963 by Paul Curtis is the fictionalized story of an African American family that travels from Flint, Michigan to Birmingham to bring the oldest brother to stay with their grandmother after he gets in a little trouble.
When I Was Puerto Rican is Esmeralda Santiago’s memoir of growing up between rural Puerto Rico and Brooklyn, NY.