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Best Coming-of-Age Books

18 of the Best Coming-of-Age Books to Read at Any Point in Your Life

Whether you've freshly entered high school or you're stumbling through your 30s (or beyond), you never really stop growing up. For this very reason, books centered on coming-of-age tales are great for every age no matter what stage in life you're at. And many times, the core theme is so damn relatable because no one really has their sh*t all together, despite what you've heard. From timeless classics to modern favorites, we've rounded up the best books about navigating life, self-discovery, and everything in between. See 18 reads ahead!

1. The Girls by Emma Cline

Set in Northern California at the end of the 1960s, The Girls all begins when lonely teen Evie Boyd is instantly captivated by a group of girls in the park. She becomes especially drawn to an older girl, Suzanne, and joins their circle, which becomes known to be an infamous cult led by a charismatic man. This new world seems intoxicating, exciting, and, most importantly, a place where Evie seems to belong — until things go a little too far.

2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

This classic coming-of-age tale set in the deep South explores the stark contrasts in the world, including love and hatred and justice and injustice. To Kill a Mockingbird tells a moving story of a young girl whose lawyer father risks it all to defend an innocent black man.

3. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Sixteen-year-old Holden Caulfield gets kicked out of prep school in Pennsylvania and spends three eventful days in New York City before returning home. Over the course of the story — which involves nuns, a prostitute, his girlfriend, Sally, and others — Holden considers running away west. The Catcher in the Rye is both simple and complex like its narrator.

4. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Little Women is a classic tale of the four March sisters: Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. Each of them couldn't be more different, but they are forced to rely on one another with their father away at war and their mother working to support them.

5. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Modern classic The Perks of Being a Wallflower provides an honest look at high school and life at that age through the eyes of Charlie. The "wallflower" talks about love, sex, drugs, and everything else involved in growing up.

6. Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

At 22, Tess lands a job at a well-known restaurant in New York, where she just moved. She tries to figure out how to navigate the food industry and young adult life through lessons of fine dining, cocaine, and love. The line between her chaotic job and the small life she has outside blurs with Sweetbitter moments along the way.

7. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Glass Castle is a memoir that retells the story of the Walls family starting from their once-dysfunctional days. Without reliable parents, the kids take care of each other and end up in New York, where they prosper, and their mother and father choose to stay homeless.

8. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

This female-centered story set in South Carolina in 1964 follows Lily Owens, whose mother tragically died in a blurry accident when Lily was younger. After her nanny, Rosaleen, offends three town racists harassing her, the two escape to Tiburon for safety and Lily gains a new sense of freedom along the way. In The Secret Life of Bees, Lily is taken in by three beekeeping sisters and learns about honey, bees, and the link between this town and her mother.

9. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

Colin Singleton has been dumped 19 times, all by different girls named Katherine. With $10,000 in his pocket and his best friend in the passenger seat, the child prodigy is determined to prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which is supposed to predict the future of relationships. An Abundance of Katherines tells the humorous story of love, friendship, and reinventing yourself.

10. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is about an adopted 16-year-old, raised by her mother as one of god's elect. But when Jeanette accepts her sexuality, she leaves the church and her family for the young woman she loves.

11. Looking For Alaska by John Green

Just as Miles "Pudge" Halter was starting to grow tired of his uneventful life, he finally gets some excitement at Culver Creek Boarding School. In Looking For Alaska, boy meets girl, a sexy, self-destructive, and intoxicating girl named Alaska Young, who sucks him right in.

12. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is an American classic about a young girl's coming-of-age. Francie hasn't had much of a quiet life since the start. Her family includes a heavy-drinking father and an aunt who's had marriage after marriage (without any formal divorces). The story captures the daily life in Williamsburg, along with its heartbreak and joys.

13. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Esther Greenwood gets the opportunity to work as a guest editor at a New York magazine. She has everything going for her as a talented, beautiful, and successful young woman. But her breakdown spirals into actual insanity, and she finds herself in a hospital after an unsuccessful suicide attempt. The Bell Jar is a haunting classic about the human psyche, societal expectations, and the transition into adulthood.

14. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man accounts the intellectual and religious awakening of Stephen Dedalus, a 19-year-old who questions the Irish-Catholic conventions he grew up with. After moving to Dublin, he makes a vow to live a life unrestrained and becomes even more thirsty for liberation during his years at university.

15. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

In the funny and heartbreaking high school tale about Greg Gaines, his friend Earl, and a girl with cancer who his mother forces him to befriend, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl will have you both laughing and crying.

16. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre tells the story of a woman's pursuit of freedom. Jane is an independent force to be reckoned with, a result of her rough childhood as an orphan. As governess at Thornfield Hall, she falls in love with her employer, Rochester, whose secrets force her to choose between leaving or facing the consequences.

17. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

The iconic story of Ponyboy, who experiences exactly what the title, The Outsiders, suggests, has a core theme of friendship and belonging. Trouble isn't foreign to him and his "greaser" friends who are rivals with a gang of rich kids — until one night when things take a turn.

18. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

The House on Mango Street is a coming-of-age classic of Esperanza Cordero, a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago. Told with the central theme of self-discovery, this moving novel is loved by all ages.

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