The best books of coming of age stories with intrepid heroines who want to be writers

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m someone who decided when I was ten that I was going to be a writer, and I began my first journal. I kept writing, and sixty years later, I’ve written books of poetry, memoir, essays, and I’m starting a novel. I also became an acupuncturist because it’s important for writers to have a fascinating day job to support yourself while you write for decades before publishing. I had a family with two great kids because where else can you learn to love and play and struggle the way you do as a parent! I’ve done many other unusual jobs, explored unexpected places, because all of those adventures feed your life as a writer. 


I wrote...

Sailing at the Edge of Disaster: A Memoir of a Young Woman's Daring Year

By Elizabeth W. Garber,

Book cover of Sailing at the Edge of Disaster: A Memoir of a Young Woman's Daring Year

What is my book about?

This was my dangerous adventure, in the 1970s, when our crazy dominating dad decided to send us, his “problem kids,” to a school on a sailing ship, to “shape up and learn to work.” Me, a seventeen-year-old bookish “good girl” along with my fourteen-year-old “trouble maker” little brother, were suddenly living on a disastrously unsafe ship, along with fifty teen misfits and our twenty-year-old teachers on a once-magnificent yacht. We worked relentlessly until we motored the limping ship out of Miami to begin our sailing adventure. Instead, it was just the beginning of a series of near disasters: a gale at sea, a hole in the hull in deep water, an act of piracy, until we are held hostage by armed gunboats in Panama. Join me on the adventure! 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of I Capture the Castle

Elizabeth W. Garber Why did I love this book?

I found I Capture the Castle when I was sixteen, and fell deeply in love with the heroine, Cassandra Mortmain, on the first page.

Here was a girl who wrote in her journal about her weird family, while sitting with her feet in the kitchen sink in a crumbling castle. I was hooked.

It didn’t matter that she lived in rural England in the 1930s, she was Me! Quirky, funny, insecure, wondering, thoughtful, and a great observer. She helped me grow up. 

I’ve returned to the book over the decades, to re-read or listen to, and the familiarity of Cassandra’s life, and her wise young woman’s voice are both comforting when I’m recovering from a cold, or want an old friend of a book to listen to on a road trip.

I imagine she’ll still be a great comfort to me when I’m an old woman! This was one of my grandmother’s favorite books too.

By Dodie Smith,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked I Capture the Castle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 12, 13, 14, and 15.

What is this book about?

One of BBC's 100 Novels That Shaped Our World.

A wonderfully quirky coming-of-age story, I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, author of The Hundred and One Dalmatians is an affectionately drawn portrait of one of the funniest families in literature.

Part of the Macmillan Collector's Library; a series of stunning, clothbound, pocket sized classics with gold foiled edges and ribbon markers. These beautiful books make perfect gifts or a treat for any book lover. This edition is illustrated by Ruth Steed, and features an afterword by publisher Anna South.

The eccentric Mortmain family have been rattling around in a…


Book cover of Writers & Lovers

Elizabeth W. Garber Why did I love this book?

In writing classes, they chastised us!

You aren’t supposed to write about wanting to grow up to be a writer! They told us, That’s not interesting to your readers. You have to write about something else, write about something that actually happens.

But for those of us who’ve wanted to write since we were young, that is our idea of an exciting story. 

And in Writers & Lovers, the heroine Casey at age 30, is still working so hard to grow up, and anguishing over if she can really become a writer, and find her place in the world. I bonded to this heroine in the first page, she was my 30-year-old self just living a different life.

I didn’t want to put down the book, I loved being in her brain, all the things she thought and talked about, I wanted to know how she figured everything out in her life, because even decades older I still sometimes feel like Casey at 30!  

I’ve read the book and listened to it, multiple times, and loved the narrator’s voice so much, I asked her to read the audiobook version of my memoir because she sounded so much like my younger self.

By Lily King,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Writers & Lovers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

#ReadWithJenna Book Club Pick as Featured on Today
Emma Roberts Belletrist Book Club Pick
A New York Times Book Review’s Group Text Selection

"I loved this book not just from the first chapter or the first page but from the first paragraph... The voice is just so honest and riveting and insightful about creativity and life." —Curtis Sittenfeld 

An extraordinary new novel of art, love, and ambition from Lily King, the New York Times bestselling author of Euphoria

Following the breakout success of her critically acclaimed and award-winning novel Euphoria, Lily King returns with another instant New York Times bestseller:…


Book cover of Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

Elizabeth W. Garber Why did I love this book?

When I set out to write a memoir about a complex family story, Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir was my inspiration.

She investigated the mysteries of her father-daughter story in the midst of a family and a community, a relationship that shared an intense love and identification with literature despite their battles. Her story tells how she came out in the 1970s as she came to understand her father’s living in the closet in the 1950s.

She was witty and honest and deeply insightful, as she wrote and drew her way through the story of her life. I was so moved.  

By Alison Bechdel,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked Fun Home as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

DISCOVER the BESTSELLING GRAPHIC MEMOIR behind the Olivier Award nominated musical.

'A sapphic graphic treat' The Times

A moving and darkly humorous family tale, pitch-perfectly illustrated with Alison Bechdel's gothic drawings. If you liked Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis you'll love this.

Meet Alison's father, a historic preservation expert and obsessive restorer of the family's Victorian home, a third-generation funeral home director, a high-school English teacher, an icily distant parent, and a closeted homosexual who, as it turns out, is involved with his male students and the family babysitter. When Alison comes out as homosexual herself in late adolescence, the denouement is…


Book cover of Little Women

Elizabeth W. Garber Why did I love this book?

Perhaps Jo March was the first girl many of us encountered in literature who grew up intent on the work of becoming a writer.

I loved her sisters, her mother, and their adventures in New England during their father’s absence in the Civil War, but my eyes were mostly on Jo. Not only was she smart, lively, bold, and adventurous, she just didn’t stop writing.

She wrote her way through loneliness and rejection. She persevered, and showed me what it would take.

By Louisa May Alcott,

Why should I read it?

18 authors picked Little Women as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 5, 6, 7, and 8.

What is this book about?

Louisa May Alcott shares the innocence of girlhood in this classic coming of age story about four sisters-Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy.

In picturesque nineteenth-century New England, tomboyish Jo, beautiful Meg, fragile Beth, and romantic Amy are responsible for keeping a home while their father is off to war. At the same time, they must come to terms with their individual personalities-and make the transition from girlhood to womanhood. It can all be quite a challenge. But the March sisters, however different, are nurtured by their wise and beloved Marmee, bound by their love for each other and the feminine…


Book cover of Atonement

Elizabeth W. Garber Why did I love this book?

Atonement is a heartbreaking portrait of the dark side of an impassioned girl determined to be a writer, who is certain she understands what is going on in the lives of the adults around her, but who makes a terrible mistake.

This novel is constructed for her to tell her story as a way to atone for her naivete and her brutal lie. Devastating and a masterpiece. 

By Ian McEwan,

Why should I read it?

15 authors picked Atonement as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

On the hottest day of the summer of 1934, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis sees her sister Cecilia strip off her clothes and plunge into the fountain in the garden of their country house. Watching her is Robbie Turner, her childhood friend who, like Cecilia, has recently come down from Cambridge. By the end of that day, the lives of all three will have been changed for ever. Robbie and Cecilia will have crossed a boundary they had not even imagined at its start, and will have become victims of the younger girl's imagination. Briony will have witnessed mysteries, and committed a…


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A Beggar's Bargain

By Jan Sikes,

Book cover of A Beggar's Bargain

Jan Sikes Author Of The Edge of Too Late

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Avid reader Lover of Music Astral Traveler Tarot Reader Grandmother

Jan's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Historical Fiction Post WW2.

A shocking proposal that changes everything.

Desperate to honor his father’s dying wish, Layken Martin vows to do whatever it takes to save the family farm.
Once the Army discharges him following World War II, Layken returns to Missouri to find his legacy in shambles and in jeopardy. A foreclosure notice from the bank doubles the threat. He appeals to the local banker for more time—a chance to rebuild, plant, and harvest crops and time to heal far away from the noise of bombs and gunfire.

But the banker firmly denies his request. Now what?

Then, the banker makes an alternative proposition—marry his unwanted daughter, Sara Beth, in exchange for a two-year extension. Out of options, money, and time, Layken agrees to the bargain.

Now, he has two years to make a living off the land while he shares his life with a stranger. If he fails at either, he’ll lose it all.

A Beggar's Bargain

By Jan Sikes,

What is this book about?

A shocking proposal that changes everything.

Desperate to honor his father's dying wish, Layken Martin vows to do whatever it takes to save the family farm.

Once the Army discharges him following World War II, Layken returns to Missouri to find his legacy in shambles and in jeopardy. A foreclosure notice from the bank doubles the threat. He appeals to the local banker for more time-a chance to rebuild, plant, and harvest crops and time to heal far away from the noise of bombs and gunfire.

But the banker firmly denies his request. Now what?

Then, the banker makes an…


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