These novels often feature characters who are forced to confront fears, take responsibility for their actions, come to terms with the unfair nature of the world, and more. The broader coming-of-age story, also known as a bildungsroman, can be found in all creative genres, from video to literature and art. There are numerous examples of coming-of-age novels, some of which are discussed below.
Coming-of-Age pronunciation: cuh-ming of ahyg
Explore Coming-Of-Age Novel
A coming-of-age novel follows a character as they age from childhood to adulthood or while they go through an important series of events that define their understanding of the world.
The character is likely to go through emotional changes influenced by what they’ve seen and experienced. For example, a coming-of-age novel might follow a young boy as he goes through school, is bullied, learns to appreciate his own originality and creativity, and then pursues a career based around his life leading up to that point. Usually, there are obstacles to overcome in coming-of-age stories, which many readers are likely to relate to.
Examples of Coming-of-Age Novels
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most famous coming-of-age stories within the oeuvre of American literature. The book is told by the six-year-old Jean Louise Finch during the Great Depression in Alabama. It follows Jean Louise Finch, who goes by the nickname Scout, as she learns about contemporary society. This includes becoming fascinated with “Boo,” a reclusive neighbor. Her father, Atticus, is appointed to defend Tom Robinson, a Black man who’s been unfairly accused of raping Mayella Ewell, a white woman. Their peers tease the children for their father’s decision to defend Robinson. Atticus’s defense is one of the central parts of the novel. He’s eventually convicted, and all the Finch children learn an important lesson about the world. Here are a few lines from the novel:
Atticus said to Jem one day, “I’d rather you shot at tin cans in the backyard, but I know you’ll go after birds. Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. “Your father’s right,” she said. “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.
One of the most important parts of the novel comes at the end when Scout envisions the world from Boo’s perspective. She learns more and more about the real world as the book progresses, a feature that may inspire readers to reconsider their own perspectives as well. Today, the novel is still widely read throughout schools in the United States and around the world.
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson was published in 1962 and was the author’s final work. It’s written from the perspective of Mary Katherine Blackwood, who goes my “Merricat.” She lives in Vermont after experiencing a tragedy that separated her and her sister and uncle from the rest of their village. Uncle Julian’s writings serve as the reader’s insight into what happened previous to the present moment. Throughout the novel, the protagonist comes to terms with what happened to her family and the life she has to live now. Here is a quote from the beginning of the book:
My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all, I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in our family is dead.
Here, the reader is brutally introduced to the depths of tragedy that haunt the Blackwood family. While Merricat has a unique family situation, she is also incredibly relatable, making a coming-of-age novel successful.
Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin
Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin is a semi-autobiographical story. It follows John Grimes, a teen living in 1930s Harlem. Much of the novel is focused on the role of the church in the lives of African Americans, the positive and the negative. The book has been ranked as one of the best English-language novels of the 20th century. The entire story takes place within a 24-hour period. Here is a quote:
But to look back from the stony plain along the road which led one to that place is not at all the same thing as walking on the road; the perspective to say the very least, changes only with the journey; only when the road has, all abruptly and treacherously, and with an absoluteness that permits no argument, turned or dropped or risen is one able to see all that one could not have seen from any other place.
Coming-of-age novels are important because they explore experiences that many readers can relate to. All people “come of age” at one point or another, allowing a wide variety of experiences to mimic on the page what happens in real life.
The purpose of these novels is to tell a story that readers can relate to and enjoy. Some are darker than others, but all coming-of-age stories are about learning the truth of the world, the good and the bad.
Some of the most famous coming-of-age novels are: To Kill a Mocking Bird, The Catcher in the Rye, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Great Expectations, and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Another name that one might see used to describe a coming-of-age novel is “bildungsroman.”
The Hunger Games can be described as a coming-of-age novel. It requires that the protagonist confront her fears, defend her family, and do whatever it takes to survive.
Related Literary Terms
- Adventure Story: tells the tale of a protagonist’s journey. They go on an adventure or quest: one that could be personal or geographical.
- Apologue: a short story, sometimes a fable, that shares a moral lesson. For example, kindness is more important than power, or love triumphs over hate.
- Campus Novel: also known as the academic novel, is a book set around a university or college campus.
- Drama: a mode of storytelling that uses dialogue and performance. It’s one of several important literary genres that authors engage with.
- Fantasy: a literary genre that includes talking animals, magic, and other worlds. It includes plots that couldn’t take place in the real world.
- Folklore: stories that people tell. These include folk stores, fairy tales, urban legends, and more.
- Read: The 50 Greatest Coming-of-Age Novels
- Read: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
- Listen: Characteristics of Coming of Age Stories