The following coming-of-age books are humorous, touching, and fun, with flashes of originality that set them apart from the rest. Our young heroines and heroes undergo life-changing experiences and hurtle into adulthood with a newfound sense of who they are… even if they don’t always know what to do next.
11 Quirky Coming-of-Age Books
Growing up is a wild ride when it comes to these fantastic reads.
By Jessica Dukes
Other People’s Pets
By R.L. Maizes
Many of us grow up with two types of family: the family we’re born into and the family we create. For young La La Fine, her chosen family is made up of the dogs, cats, hamsters, and parrots that other people keep as companions. Her natural talents as an animal empath come in handy for her father’s crooked line of work: He robs houses while she calms the anxious pets. But luck doesn’t last forever. Years later, La La’s dad is finally arrested. La La helps the only way she knows how — by dropping out of veterinary school and returning to a life of crime to pay his legal fees. Rich with a “lively voice and unexpected characters,” R.L. Maizes’ debut novel is the perfect read “for those who understand that coming of age has absolutely nothing to do with age,” says the Washington Post.
By Jessica Anya Blau
For 14-year-old Mary Jane, life in 1970s Baltimore is just the way she likes it. She sings in the church choir, cooks with her mother, and reads the afternoons away. In the summer, she earns extra money as a nanny for the daughter of a local doctor. One day life gets interesting when a famous rock star and his movie star wife move in with the doctor’s family. In between babysitting and doing laundry, Mary Jane is suddenly exposed to a world she’s never known — sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll, and political activism collide with her straitlaced life. She starts thinking about the future, and by the end of the summer, Mary Jane will have a few new ideas about what she expects and who she hopes to be.
By Patrick deWitt
Patrick deWitt puts a devious spin on the ancient folktale in this clever coming-of-age adventure story. Lucien “Lucy” Minor is a nobody in the small hamlet he calls home: He’s sickly, friendless, loveless, and aimless. But everything changes when he lands his first job, as an assistant to the majordomo of the ominous Castle Von Aux. Soon Lucy is introduced to a new cast of characters — thieves, madmen, and nobles, mostly, but also Klara, the most beautiful girl in town. To win her heart, he’ll have to compete against an absurdly handsome soldier, move among murderers, and endure bitter heartbreak. And as if that weren’t enough, Lucy also has to find his boss, the mysterious Baron Von Aux, who has been missing since he arrived.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation
By Ottessa Moshfegh
In Ottessa Moshfegh’s darkly comic narrative, a young unnamed narrator in New York City achieves great success at an early age — only to realize that her life is empty. Fed up with her corrosive relationships and the yawning black hole in her heart, she decides to take a year off from the world. Unfortunately, she turns to a quack psychiatrist, who prescribes a staggering combination of pharmaceuticals designed to cure her anxiety and sense of isolation. The pills don’t work, but our heroine still spends a year at home alone, where she develops a newfound comfort with her grief, alienation, and solitude.
Oona Out of Order
By Margarita Montimore
Have you ever wanted to skip through time and live out a period of your life armed with the knowledge you have now? That’s what happens to 19-year-old Oona Lockhart. Somewhere in the final seconds of the 1982 New Year’s Eve countdown, Oona faints. She wakes up 32 years in the future. The questions she once wrestled with as a young woman — should I move to London for school? Should I study music in Brooklyn? — have all been answered long ago. Now she must contend with life as a 51-year-old woman. But when New Year’s Eve rolls back around, time skips again. Sliding through the decades, Oona remains 19 at heart while being thrown into different moments in the many lives she’s destined to lead.
By Lara Williams
Roberta has spent most of her young life quietly yearning for acceptance. She may have finally found it in the form of an artist named Stevie. At first glance, Stevie and Roberta are opposites, but they become fast friends over a shared love of food. Together they create the Supper Club, a secret society of women who eat without shame, consume as much as they want, and celebrate their hunger and indulgences. Most of all, they’re unapologetic about their bodies and the space they occupy. As the club grows, so too does its spirit of rebellion, and Roberta must come to terms with her past if she hopes to return to the world with her new sense of freedom.
By Mateo Askaripour
Twentysomething Darren is plodding through a low-key existence, working at Starbucks and living at home with his mom, when he’s offered a life-changing opportunity. The CEO of New York’s hottest new startup thinks he’d make a great salesman, and after a grueling week of training, Darren is on the team. He’s also the only Black man in the entire company. Determined to succeed, Darren transforms into “Buck,” a ruthless salesman who is utterly unrecognizable from his former self. Buck outperforms them all. But when his star crashes as quickly as it rose, he hatches a new plan — bringing droves of young POC into the American sales force. A merciless satire of startup culture, the American dream, and the ever-shifting expectations of adulthood, Black Buck is the wild office comedy–drama of the year.
We Ride Upon Sticks
By Quan Barry
In 1692, Danvers, Massachusetts, was the site of Ann Putnam’s damning accusations that sparked the Salem witch trials. Flash forward to 1989, and the young women of Danvers are more concerned about scoring the coolest new cassette. Then there’s the high school girl’s field hockey team, led by Ann Putnam’s descendant, Abby. Abby’s co-captain is Jen Fiorenza, whose bleached-blond bangs see and know all. Together, the team will dabble in the dark arts if that’s what it takes to get to state finals. And if they can dispel some of their town’s puritanical beliefs about femininity along the way, all the better. An enchanting mix of ’80s nostalgia and female camaraderie, We Ride Upon Sticks is a “fresh coming-of-age story” (TIME) that’s wickedly fun.
By Elif Bautman
In her celebrated debut, Elif Bautman brilliantly chronicles the humor, pain, and wonder of being a young person on the cusp of adulthood, tapping into that moment when the world widens before you and everything is new. Selin is the daughter of Turkish immigrants, and she’s a freshman at Harvard. Soon she’s making friends with people from around the world and taking classes on topics she’s never imagined. A love affair blossoms over email with Ivan, a mathematics student from Hungary. At the end of the school year, Selin finds herself teaching English in the Hungarian countryside after visiting a friend in Paris. Her life is a whirlwind, and while sorting it all out may make her feel like an idiot, it’s a growing pain she’s excited to endure.
By Paul Murray
Fourteen-year-old Skippy is found dead at a local Dublin donut shop — and everyone, it seems, is a suspect. Among the cast of suspicious characters: a teenage drug dealer and Skippy’s romantic rival; Skippy’s brilliant best friend, who’s determined to crack open a portal to a parallel universe; the school’s smooth-talking headmaster; and a 14-year-old rapper who insists on being called “MC Sexecutioner.” Finding a killer may be difficult with this motley crew, but they’re sure to hold the answers to some of life’s other big questions. Do not miss Murray’s dazzling and darkly funny take on adolescence and the problematic life of teenage boys.
By Sanjena Sathian
This dazzling coming-of-age novel by Sanjena Sathian combines humor and magic with a scathing satire of the American dream. Neil Narayan is a teenager in Atlanta, feeling the pressure from his immigrant parents to be capital-S successful. The problem is, he has no interest in the track laid before him by his mom and dad. That said, Neil does know what he wants: Anita, his beautiful neighbor. When Anita reveals that she has a magic potion that delivers endless ambition, Neil takes it… and then proceeds to destroy everything important in his path. Years later, desperately in need of a comeback, Neil searches for Anita, hoping to convince her to give him one more drop of magic. This time, he swears, he’ll be different.