10 coming of age novels that everyone should read

And a free extract of My Favourite Manson Girl? SURE

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In new novel My Favourite Manson Girl, Anna has had a miserable year. Everything feels wrong with her life. And rather than stay and face the mess, she steals a credit card and books herself a seat on the first flight out of town to Los Angeles to crash with her sister. 

But soon after she lands, cold reality soon dawns on her: She is trapped in a town full of lost souls and wannabes, with no friends, no cash and no return ticket. 

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When she's offered a job researching the murderous Manson girls for a dubious film, she reluctantly accepts - she needs the money. But soon enough, among the fake smiles and glitter-fuelled parties, things turn from strange, to dark, to dangerous.

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My Favourite Manson Girl is a chilling story about being young, lost and female. This is a story about how girls disappear. So who better to give us some other awesome reading recommendations than author, Alison Umminger? NO ONE, that's who. 

Alison Umminger's top ten coming of age novels...

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1. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers 

I fell in love with this novel as a high school junior, and am never less than amazed at McCullers's nuanced and compassionate portrait of the American South. The novel's world of lonely misfits longing for connection includes everyone.  If you're looking for diversity in literature, look no further than her racially-conflicted, class stratified, queer, small-town America.  And the prose is nothing short of perfection.

2. Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

For a long time, I avoided this novel because it involved dogfighting.  Ward depicts fifteen-year old, pregnant Esch as she weathers the twelve days before, during and after Hurricane Katrina with such grace and immediacy that I greatly regretted my initial hesitancy. And China, the much-loved pit bull who gives birth in the novel's opening pages, becomes a one of literature's most memorable characters. Ward works fictional magic; she take the reader to places both improbable and unknown, making the repulsive sympathetic. If you had told me I'd be rooting for a dog in a dogfight, before reading this novel, I'd have said you were crazy.  The book's last paragraph is transcendent.  One of my favourite books, period.

3. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

If you can resist a coming-of-age novel about a family of carnival freaks, created and controlled by their father, who literally burn the place down in their teenage years, be my guest!  Like many readers, I googled Katherine Dunn every few months, praying that she'd release another novel.  Alas, there will only be one like this, a page-turner with conjoined twins, telekinetic vegetarians, and a stripper with a tail (yes, an actual tail) that is also incredibly smart about femininity, misogyny, adolescence, and family.

4. Pretty Is by Maggie Mitchell

Everyone thought we were dead. We were missing for nearly two months; we were twelve. What else could they think?  So begins Maggie Mitchell's spellbinding debut.  The novel's dual narrators, two kidnapped white girls, Lois and Carly Mae, are selected and curated by their captor, Zed, and finally rescued, but... they kind of miss him.  As adults, they reconnect improbably but believably, and face the legacy of their shared past.  A brilliantly written page-turner of a novel, that still leaves the reader room to meditate on what beauty means for girls and women, and whether or not we really escape the past.

5. Elsewhere, California by Dana Johnson

Like Geek Love and Pretty Is, Johnson's novel mixes a coming of age story in the past with the legacy of that childhood in the protagonist's present.  The reader watches young Avery, an black girl from a poor LA neighbourhood who loves David Bowie and Leif Garrett, as she grows up and negotiates her changing identity.  Johnson vividly portrays LA in the late 70s/early 80s, and her characters resist category as much as the city itself.  The author's genius with language and the shifts in Avery's language as she matures and changes are nothing short of brilliant.  A must-read novel about the tradeoffs of assimilation.

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6. The Lover by Marguerite Duras

Duras' spare, elegant prose retrospectively tells the story of a 15-year-old French girl's seduction by her 27-year-old Chinese lover in colonial Vietnam.  More novella than novel, the book is frank in its depictions of sexuality, and of a girl learning to form a life outside the orbit of her difficult mother.  I love this book.

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7. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

One of the classics of American literature, biting in its indictment of racism and the hypocrisies of the American South.  What could be more dark and ironic than an already-free slave "escaping" on a raft that's only headed further South.  Although the language has continued to draw criticism, this is such an important book about the ravages and blindnesses of white privilege.  And Huck is one of the first great American YA antiheroes--poor, crass, but capable--when separated from society--of unlearning some of his racist upbringing.

8. Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews

I have tissue memory of passing this book around my science class in 7th grade, trying hard not to get caught by the teacher.  The most twisted of fairy tails, pulp in the grandest sense, but I will not lie -- I freaking loved it. I think this was as close as my generation had to a Twilight, but factors of ten naughtier.  Cathy Dollanganger is locked away by her vapid mother in an attic where she has nothing to do but dance, cut out paper flowers, and (spoiler alert) sleep with her brother.  As she moves through adolescence, surpassing her mother in beauty, the trouble really starts.  Interestingly enough, house also burns down in this one! 

9. Carrie by Stephen King

The original and possibly ultimate mean girl-bullying-revenge story (also involving tampon-pelting, telekinesis, and a fiery finish).  This book is worth reading not only in and of itself, but also alongside his excellent book on craft, On Writing, where King talks about the real-life girls who inspired Carrie, and his shift as a writer from disgust-with to empathy-for his tormented heroine.

10. Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier

Hidier's novel is the first YA to feature a South Asian American heroine, so it's both groundbreaking and delightful. Dimple LaLa has one foot in the world of her traditional, Indian parents and the other in that of the American adolescents who surround her.  Self-described as "the other one," when contrasted with her tall, blonde American best friend Gwyn, the reader knows that Dimple is wrong--she's the one we notice as she struggles with her feelings for the "suitable"/not suitable love interest, Karsh. Hidier's incandescent prose guides the reader through this sprawling but compulsively readable novel.

RIGHT, and when you've worked your way through all of that lot, how about checking our the first chapter of Alison's brand new read, My Favourite Mansion Girl? 

We've got it for you to read for free right here, so get stuck in and then don't forget to grab yourself a copy when it hits bookshelves on June 7th.

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