COMING-OF-AGE ... OR OF-CHARACTER
Kevin Sharp is from Menlo Park, California.
I won't call these my favorite coming-of-age books, because not every protagonist in them "comes of age." Rather, these are stories I like that feature young people as protagonists. The books run the genre gamut--from young adult fiction to memoir to graphic novel.
All This Heavenly Glory
By Elizabeth Crane
I went in expecting a classic girl-grows-up story. Wrong. We meet Charlotte Anne Byers as an adult, as a child, as a teenager--and then come back around again. I'm a sucker for fractured narratives anyway, but Crane's great feat here is making every story, every moment, feel like an organic facet of one person rather than a collection of random tales.
Before I Die
By Jenny Downham
A story about a 16-year-old with terminal cancer (spoiler alert in the title!) I usually wouldn't read with a gun at my back. But Jenny Downham has captured a voice so rich that from the first line--"I wish I had a boyfriend"--we are swept along for the whole rocky journey. Even though I knew what was coming, the ending achieves a transcendence I found literally breathtaking.
The Summer of Naked Swim Parties
By Jessica Anya Blau
If The Ice Storm and The Virgin Suicides (two other books I love) are the dark clouds of the 1970s, then here is the silver lining. Jamie, a SoCal beach girl, endures her hippie parents, her older sister, and her first boyfriend over the summer of 1976. This is historical fiction at its best: the novel as time machine, inviting the reader not only into a character's life but also into an actual world, without ever feeling like a lesson.
By Brock Cole
To call this novel "the female Catcher in the Rye" would be both simplistic and accurate. Read it. Celine wouldn't want me to say more than that.
The Last Samurai
By Helen DeWitt
A child prodigy son of a single mother goes on a quest to learn the identity of his father. From such seeds might a Lifetime movie grow, but Helen DeWitt is after something much richer and more unexpected. Akira Kurosawa's film Seven Samurai serves as the throbbing undercurrent of the story--rather, several layers of the story--and it never feels like just a gimmick. No spoiler: A scene of Ludo, the protagonist, holding a reclining man's hand brings tears to my eyes every time I read DeWitt's novel.