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Although many coming of age novels are best read as adults, there is a growing body of Young Adult literature that handles this subject matter very well. One of the latest is Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield.

Becca has always known she isn't meant for her dump of a small town. The last year has been somewhat better because of time with her boyfriend, James, a dropout who grieves for his mother after he watched her die from cancer. On the night she graduates as salutatorian, they have sex in the back of his pickup out on the fields, under the stars. Then he dumps her. But James soon calls, unsure if they've broken up. He knows she's going to leave him at summer's end anyway but he is a lonely, James Dean-type. Maybe they need each other still.

That same night, their small town is rocked by the discovery of the body of a dead young woman out on the road near the site of where James parked his truck. And the real story of Amelia Anne is Dead and Gone unfolds.

In lyrical, layered writing, Kat Rosenfield writes about Becca's town, her home life, her relationship with James and how the investigation into how the mystery woman died plays out. The ramifications of assumptions and what people think they know about each other are devastating.

Becca, in particular, shows both the benefits of knowing so many people in a small locale and the drawbacks to the same. She displays both perseverance and folly, wisdom and flightiness. In short chapters spaced out between Becca's story, the reader learns about the dead woman and what led to her death.

This is sophisticated writing replete with lyricism, layers and language. It is not, however, flowery. The first F bomb comes on page 7 in this realistic depiction of teens embarking on adulthood. Becca shares two bottles of wine with her unhappy mother one night and boozes it up the rest of the summer. For older teens and adults, this is a deeply affecting story told well.

Other coming-of-age novels that work for both older teens and adults, young and otherwise, include (you knew this one was coming) Sherman Alexie's Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, To Kill a Mockingbird, Jane Eyre, S.E. Hinton's novels, I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith and Mockingjay, the last book in The Hunger Games trilogy. The last book is definitely one that will be viewed differently by adults and teens.

Some coming-of-age novels work better for a teen reader than an adult one. Those include Catcher in the Rye, The Red Badge of Courage, John Green's novels and a sentimental favorite, the Anne of Green Gables books.

But other coming-of-age novels are a richer reading experience after the reader has been around the block more than once. Novels in this category include Great Expectations (which I'm including because, although I loved it in high school, I'm tired of people saying they HAD to read it in school and they therefore hate Dickens and all literature), Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Jeffrey Eugenides' The Virgin Suicides.

Disagreements? Additions?

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Comment Preferences

  •  I loved Great Expectations, (7+ / 0-)

    and the people who say they read it in high school and hated it DID NOT READ IT (pico?).  Just like I never actually read Madame Bovary in HS; I just read the ending and faked it.  But at least I don't go around denouncing Flaubert.

  •  Seems to me that Catcher in the Rye (7+ / 0-)

    is one of those books that works better for adults than teens: teens get too easily sucked into the story at face-value (he's right, the world is full of phonies!), where adults recognize the irony and sadness that's behind Holden's empty, hypocritical poses.  

    At least that's my take.

    Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

    by pico on Tue Jul 17, 2012 at 07:30:21 PM PDT

  •  Mockingjay (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bookgirl, pico

    There seems to be a real split among readers for Mockingjay. I'm not sure it's exactly teen vs adult.

    I liked it. I thought it was true to the character in a way that most fantasy just glides over (Katniss is basically coping with PTSD through the whole book.) And since I'm okay with plot being twisted a bit in service of the character, since of the more unlikely bits at the end were fine for me. But I can see how others might differ.

    •  One reason why the ending didn't upset me (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      pico, ferg

      is that I'm usually willing to let the author be in control of plot. Many of the readers who have expressed discontent to me wanted a different ending short- and long-term.

      (Spoiler for those who have not read Mockingjay:)

      I would have liked to have known more about Gale's fate even though it made sense to me that Katniss ended up with the boy who gave her the bread before they ever entered the arena.

  •  I don't remember that there was a specific (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bookgirl, ferg, pico, Youffraita

    genre of young adult novels when I was a teen.  Yes, there were the classics that you have mentioned, but there weren't that many books directed at teens - other than science fiction and fantasy.

    I thought Catcher in the Rye was okay, but I preferred John Knowles A Separate Peace.

    I am glad there is a YA genre, not only do I enjoy many of them myself, but the quality may lead some teens to actually enjoy reading.

    "I cannot live without books" -- Thomas Jefferson, 1815

    by Susan Grigsby on Tue Jul 17, 2012 at 09:11:34 PM PDT

  •  The Absolutely True Diary Of A Part-Time Indian (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    aravir, Monsieur Georges, bookgirl, ferg, pico

    by Sherman Alexei is, IMO, the best of the bunch.

    I have done this book with high school English classes.  I teach in a public school where 80% of the students are Native American.  My Indian and non-Indian students all love this book.  

    Teenagers love this book!  I love this book!

    It tells many hard truths that teenagers are in the midst of seeing in their own lives and learning for themselves.

    If you haven't yet read it, please do.

    This book is joyful, sad, beautiful, honest, and hilarious.

    Stand Up! Keep Fighting! Paul Wellstone

    by RuralLiberal on Wed Jul 18, 2012 at 04:19:10 AM PDT

    •  I read the book with 8th graders and they (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Monsieur Georges, pico, ferg

      also responded to Junior, his family and friends. My school is Title I with 98 percent free and reduced lunch. My students are Hispanic but we are only two towns away from a reservation and Junior's rez is on the same side of the mountains. My kids know these people.

      I cannot recommend this book enough to everyone.

      Have you read Alexie's story What You Pawn I Will Redeem? It wasn't written as such but serves as an companion piece to Grandmother's funeral and what happens there. It's online here.

  •  Your small-town comment reminded me (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Monsieur Georges, ferg, bookgirl, pico

    of something my friend Lois once said to me.  I spent 3 years doing archaeology in a very small town in Western Illinois called Nauvoo.  Once passed through as I was bussing across the country back to college, and spent the night there.  As Lois and I were talking that night she said "The good thing about a small town is how folks will rally around when you are in trouble.  The bad thing is that they will then spend the next twenty years talking about it."  Never forgot that.  Have lived in a city since then, but have witnessed that phenomenon in the 12-Step fellowship I belong to.

    My favorite coming of age book as a kid was Lord of the Rings.  Frodo's journey from innocent to the edge of corruption touched me deeply.  Indeed, each of the hobbits undergoes a "coming of age".  The Hobbit does actually appear on some lists I've seen.

    Three other novels you haven't mentioned:
    Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
    Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
    The Stones of Summer by Dow Mossman (Note: added a llink for this one as the least likely to be known).

    One further comment:  as I looked up various lists, I came across a Wikipedia entry which actually describes a formal term for the genre: Bildungsroman

    Ancora Impara--Michelangelo

    by aravir on Wed Jul 18, 2012 at 05:11:29 AM PDT

  •  Since I forgot to add my own; (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    the coming-of-age book that had the biggest impact on me as a young teenager was John Christopher's Empty World, which is just this side of completely unknown.  Short version: a plague wipes out most of the human race, while a teenager who'd already lost his family in a car crash has to learn both to survive and to play well with others.  It's a bold book, because the climactic confrontation (based loosely on Sartre's No Exit) is over the simple question of whether to extend forgiveness and trust to someone who may not deserve it... Effectively it's about emotional maturation, despite the apocalypse in the background.  Very powerful stuff, very well-written.

    Now that I'm older, what's my favorite coming-of-age novel?  Not sure off the top of my head, but if I had to choose, I'd go with Joyce's Portrait.

    Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited. - Ambrose Bierce

    by pico on Wed Jul 18, 2012 at 09:00:08 AM PDT

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