A great book can change your life. Books are amazing at offering inspiring words and telling unbelievable stories that can make you change your entire outlook on life. They can also serve as helpful tools for getting through hard times. No matter what time period they're set in, no matter the specifics, coming of age stories fill readers with hope for the future, allow them to question themselves in a healthy way, and inspire them to create their own destiny. Coming of age tales have been told since the beginning of time, but this particular selection of books have made history.
Go Tell it On the Mountain by James Baldwin
Source: 101 Books
This semi-autobiographical novel follows the life and times of a teenager coming of age in Harlem, New York in the 1930's. The story details the complicated relationship he has with his family, the church, and himself. It deals with themes of religion, morality, and self-reflection.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Source: Lit Reactor
As Sylvia Plath's only novel, The Bell Jar has received tons of notoriety since its inception. The semi-autobiographical tale details the experiences of a young woman and her increasingly problematic mental illness. Central themes like societal pressures that pertain to love, marriage, and children are major plot points in the novel.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Source: Quirk Books
No coming of age literary list would be complete without The Catcher in the Rye. Published in 1951, J.D. Salinger's tale follows the iconic Holden Caufield as he deals with feelings of loneliness and alienation during his teen years.
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
A Clockwork Orange is a different type of coming of age tale. The novel follows the life of an English teenager named Alex as he ravages his way through his city with his gang of no-gooders, the story then moves to his subsequent jail time and his supposedly "rehabilitated" release. While the novel isn't necessarily inspiring it is increasingly introspective and brings up questions of morality and the meaning of life.
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
As a novel written by a 16 year old, The Outsiders perfectly encapsulates what it means to come of age. Set to the backdrop of a greaser gang during the '60s, The Outsiders is narrated by Ponyboy Curtis as he navigates the gang, school, authority, and his adolescence.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is narrated by 15 year old Charlie, a lonely introverted high school who is quietly dealing with the suicide of a friend and the death of a close relative. The book grapples with subjects pertaining to abuse, acceptance, and friendship.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Source: Literary Life
The autobiographical tale details Maya Angelou's childhood and adolescence. The book details her life from ages 3-17 and deals with issues of racism, abuse, identity, and the general hardships of growing up.
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
This strange novel relies on the narration of a group of boys who describe the tragic suicides of a group of 5 sisters during the 1970's. The story details the lives of the girls leading up to their deaths and involves issues of extreme isolation and depression.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Source: Penguin Books
The Secret History is a fictional novel depicting the relationship between a group of friends attending a wealthy, private college. The story details their lives as they navigate through things like murder, blackmail, and deceit while struggling with their identities and loyalties.
Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang by Joyce Carol Oats
Foxfire follows a group of teenagers who form a girl gang during the 1950's. The novel takes place over the course of three years and has strong themes of feminism, abuse, friendship, and empowerment.