The best coming-of-age novels that capture the nature of growth

Why am I passionate about this?

Life is, and I think we all can agree, a wild mess of lessons, harshness, wonderful moments, and so much more—the coming-of-age genre has been so fun to explore for me because it touches on the many aspects of daily life. We all live different lives, and telling the stories of others, fictionally or non-fictionally is always something I have enjoyed. I am a journalist, author of coming-of-age fiction, and a lover of the stories life gives us. I hope you find within my recommended books, stories of growth, stories of dealing with life, and stories of the crazy yet beautiful gift that life is. 


I wrote...

The Stars on Vita Felice Court

By Emily H. Keefer,

Book cover of The Stars on Vita Felice Court

What is my book about?

Val Beckley is facing what many teenagers do – a yearning to escape her small town in hopes of becoming something more. Feeling trapped in West Virginia, Val convinces herself that she has found the new start she's looking for in the desert of suburban Mesa, Arizona, with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also widely known as "the Mormons" or "LDS Church." Discovering new meanings of home, love, and family, Val takes a journey that leads her to the most unexpected discoveries of all: what resides in her own heart, what creates a happy life, and where she truly belongs.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Where the Crawdads Sing

Emily H. Keefer Why did I love this book?

Where the Crawdads Sing by Deliah Owens captured my heart. As a truly heartbreaking and moving coming-of-age story, this is a book that is a challenge to put down with its beautiful depiction of the richness of nature, the depth of childhood into adulthood, and its ability to teach vulnerability. I loved this book because it includes a captivating plot, a truly artistic flow to its narrative, and it is a coming-of-age story not only for the character but also for the reader. It is a truly beautifully crafted novel.  

By Delia Owens,

Why should I read it?

46 authors picked Where the Crawdads Sing as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

OVER 12 MILLION COPIES SOLD WORLDWIDE
NOW A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE
A NUMBER ONE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

For years, rumours of the 'Marsh Girl' have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be…


Book cover of Through the Waters and the Wild

Emily H. Keefer Why did I love this book?

Through the Waters and the Wild really impacted me because it asks the timeless and relatable questions—“Where shall I go now?” and “What shall I do?” Focused on questions we all ask at some point in life, this wonderfully crafted novel answers that question in a unique way. Moving through the time period of the Irish Civil War, Fields is able to tell the story of a young boy finding his way all the while creating a setting in which is almost unbelievably described. I love this book because it seems as if Fields truly used a time machine, and as the reader, I felt as if I was on the streets in Ireland seeing the story take place. 

By Greg Fields,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Through the Waters and the Wild as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"I was hungry, seeing myself starving for want of something I could not define. I sought it constantly, sought it at every turn, searched every face I met for hints of it, looked everywhere I could conceive. I lost time trying to slake this unquenchable thirst, trying to satisfy an endlessly burning hunger. But in the end I knew precisely what I had been after all along. It is the folly of the young, part of their particular curse, to be so unaware, to be blind as well as hungry. To be in exile from themselves and not know they…


Book cover of The Weight of This World

Emily H. Keefer Why did I love this book?

The Weight of this World is one of my absolute favorite additions to southern literature. I enjoyed this book, and honestly all of David Joy’s books, because it is crafted in a way to show darkness while at the same time showing glimmers of hope within the characters. This novel is real, raw, and a wonderful read that I would recommend to anyone who is looking to read a book that you can’t put down because of the action, the moments of self-discovery, and the depiction of the roughness within the world.

By David Joy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Weight of This World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Critically acclaimed author David Joy, whose debut, Where All Light Tends to Go, was hailed as "a savagely moving novel that will likely become an important addition to the great body of Southern literature" (The Huffington Post), returns to the mountains of North Carolina with a powerful story about the inescapable weight of the past.

A combat veteran returned from war, Thad Broom can't leave the hardened world of Afghanistan behind, nor can he forgive himself for what he saw there. His mother, April, is haunted by her own demons, a secret trauma she has carried for years. Between them…


Book cover of Southernmost

Emily H. Keefer Why did I love this book?

I loved this book because it is beautiful in so many ways. It is a coming-of-age tale for many of the characters in a unique way. House challenged my view of ways to love, tolerance, and limits of belief. Additionally, I enjoyed this book because of its wonderfully crafted prose. With lessons richly sprinkled on its pages, it provided me with a new way of thinking. The cherry on top for me, was the quite unique plot that as the reader I followed and could not stop until I finished the last page.

By Silas House,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Southernmost as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the aftermath of a flood that washes away much of a small Tennessee town, evangelical preacher Asher Sharp offers shelter to two gay men. In doing so, he starts to see his life anew - and risks losing everything: his wife, locked into her religious prejudices; his congregation, which shuns Asher after he delivers a passionate sermon in defense of tolerance; and his young son, Justin, caught in the middle of what turns into a bitter custody battle.

With no way out but ahead, Asher takes Justin and flees to Key West, where he hopes to find his brother,…


Book cover of Eleanor & Park

Emily H. Keefer Why did I love this book?

Yet another beautiful coming-of-age novel, Eleanor & Park took me on a journey that tells the familiar tale of what it is like to be young and in love. Rowell takes that theme we all know and puts a unique spin on it that made my heart smile while reading it. The author plays with nostalgia, very smart young main characters, and the common tale of the pain of love—a fun, important read for the coming-of-age story lover.

By Rainbow Rowell,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Eleanor & Park 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?

'Reminded me not just what it's like to be young and in love, but what it's like to be young and in love with a book' John Green, author of The Fault in our Stars

Eleanor is the new girl in town, and she's never felt more alone. All mismatched clothes, mad red hair and chaotic home life, she couldn't stick out more if she tried.

Then she takes the seat on the bus next to Park. Quiet, careful and - in Eleanor's eyes - impossibly cool, Park's worked out that flying under the radar is the best way to…


You might also like...

The Oracle of Spring Garden Road

By Norrin M. Ripsman,

Book cover of The Oracle of Spring Garden Road

Norrin M. Ripsman Author Of The Oracle of Spring Garden Road

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Too often, I find that novelists force the endings of their books in ways that aren’t true to their characters, the stories, or their settings. Often, they do so to provide the Hollywood ending that many readers crave. That always leaves me cold. I love novels whose characters are complex, human, and believable and interact with their setting and the story in ways that do not stretch credulity. This is how I try to approach my own writing and was foremost in my mind as I set out to write my own book.

Norrin's book list on novels that nail the endings

What is my book about?

The Oracle of Spring Garden Road explores the life and singular worldview of “Crazy Eddie,” a brilliant, highly-educated homeless man who panhandles in front of a downtown bank in a coastal town.

Eddie is a local enigma. Who is he? Where did he come from? What brought him to a life on the streets? A dizzying ride between past and present, the novel unravels these mysteries, just as Eddie has decided to return to society after two decades on the streets, with the help of Jane, a woman whose intelligence and integrity rival his own. Will he succeed, or is…

The Oracle of Spring Garden Road

By Norrin M. Ripsman,

What is this book about?

“Crazy Eddie” is a homeless man who inhabits two squares of pavement in front of a bank in downtown Halifax, Nova Scotia. In this makeshift office, he panhandles and dispenses his peerless wisdom. Well-educated, fiercely intelligent with a passionate interest in philosophy and a profound love of nature, Eddie is an enigma for the locals. Who is he? Where did he come from? What brought him to a life on the streets? Though rumors abound, none capture the unique worldview and singular character that led him to withdraw from the perfidy and corruption of human beings. Just as Eddie has…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in romantic love, gay men, and love triangle?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about romantic love, gay men, and love triangle.

Romantic Love Explore 892 books about romantic love
Gay Men Explore 125 books about gay men
Love Triangle Explore 75 books about love triangle