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.