The best coming-of-age stories by diverse women

The Books I Picked & Why

The Complete Persepolis

By Marjane Satrapi

Book cover of The Complete Persepolis

Why this book?

Marjane Satrapi’s powerful graphic novel memoir is one of my all-time favorite books in any genre. The stories that comprise her young life during Iran’s cultural revolution, her eventual solitary exile in Europe, and her post-war return, are riveting, heartbreaking, hilarious, and unforgettable. Illustrated in stunning black and white drawings, Persepolis blends Satrapi’s inner and outer experience of events and characters with such sublime artistry that her story will (if I can predict it) become instantly lodged in your heart. 

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The House on Mango Street

By Sandra Cisneros

Book cover of The House on Mango Street

Why this book?

A celebrated modern classic, The House on Mango Street unfolds in a series of intimate vignettes told to us by Esperanza, a young girl growing up amid the color and chaos of her Latinx Chicago neighborhood, with all its striking loves and pains. Esperanza brings the reader into the heart of her family, and into her personal dreams that strive to live in a place where so many dreams are crushed. Mango Street is an intimate story infused with love, humor, sadness, and hope.

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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

By Maya Angelou

Book cover of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Why this book?

Maya Angelou’s famous memoir captures her childhood in rural Arkansas and wild adolescence in California with extraordinary sensitivity and insight, and rich, evocative detail. Every character, from her powerful grandmother, tumultuous parents, dear brother Bailey, and a panoply of others, fairly roar off the page, illuminating the wondrous, weird, tragic, and punishingly ordinary events of Angelou’s often heroic young life. 

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Somebody's Daughter: A Memoir

By Ashley C. Ford

Book cover of Somebody's Daughter: A Memoir

Why this book?

Like all the young girls in this shortlist of coming-of-age stories, Ashley C. Ford (one of Angelou’s literary children) is a survivor hell-bent on finding a life better than the one she was handed, and, like the others, she is remarkably sensitive, imaginative, and able to paint her world for us in the most tender and unique shapes and colors. How does a young girl weather such brutal realities, experience beauty, and splice together a space for her soul? Ford’s memoir is one such contemporary story. 

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The Color Purple

By Alice Walker

Book cover of The Color Purple

Why this book?

The Color Purple, another of my all-time favorite books, is an unusual coming-of-age story in that it tells the life of one remarkable young person’s journey into maturity and self-possession far beyond her youth. Surviving the injustices and vicious circumstances of her young life as an impoverished Black girl in the rural south in the early 20th century, Celie discovers herself through forbidden love and the loves that others tried to steal from her.  

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