The Best Coming-of-Age Books

Book Critic and author of "Between the Covers," Ellen Heltzel, joined us today with her picks for the best coming-of-age books -- female style!

Here is Ellen's list:

1. “This Full House,” by Virginia Euwer Wolff. Last in a trilogy of novels, one of which won the National Book Award, this is young adult fiction that’s good enough for adults, as well. Wolff, a Portland area author, tells the story of LaVaughn, the only child of a struggling single mother who wants her daughter to have a better life than she had. Written in prose poem form, all three books -- “Make Lemonade,” “True Believer” and “This Full House” – show a young girl struggling to grow up and prove that overcoming a disadvantaged background is not easy, but possible.

2. “Once Upon a Quinceanera: Coming of Age in the USA,” by Julia Alvarez. Alvarez is a well-known fiction writer who turns to non-fiction here to tell the story of a custom common in Hispanic culture – the celebration marking a girl’s 15th birthday. Much like a coming-out party or a wedding, this involves much time and expense. As she takes readers into the lives of girls going through such an experience, she both praises the ritual and questions whether it serves a girl’s long-term interests.

3. “Bee Season,” by Myla Goldberg. This is one of the best recent coming-of-age novels around (also a movie) because of the way it captures a young girl’s dawning awareness of the world around her. Fifth-grader Eliza Naumann is used to being the next best thing to wallpaper in a family of achievers. But after she wins a spelling bee, she steps out of the shadows – and into the buzz saw of her family’s conflicts.

4. “Things I’ve Been Silent About,” by Azar Nafisi. The author of the bestseller “Reading Lolita in Tehran” tells the story of growing up with a difficult mother and family secrets. This is a beautifully told personal story that spotlights both Nafisi’s own bumpy road to adulthood and the larger issues facing women in modern Iran.

5. “I Am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World,” by Eve Ensler. The creator of “The Vagina Monologues” brings her theme of female empowerment to the younger set in this book of fictional monologues and stories. Her theme song is summed up when she writes:

Find a man
Seek protection
The world is scary…

…No one is going to
Rescue you…
Decide whether you want to be liked or admired
Decide if fitting in is more important than finding out
what you’re doing here…”                 

For more information about Ellen Heltzel, check out her Book Babes website.


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