The best coming of age novels with a cutting edge

Joyce Yarrow Author Of Sandstorm
By Joyce Yarrow

The Books I Picked & Why

The Catcher in the Rye

By J.D. Salinger

Book cover of The Catcher in the Rye

Why this book?

This novel made a lifelong impression on me when I read it as a teenager growing up in New York City. The descriptions of the underbelly of the city along with Holden Caulfield’s deep alienation spoke to me because here was a person from an upper-class background whose estrangement and distress resembled my own. Up until that point I had thought that only economically disadvantaged people had problems. This was my first experience with how reading could expand my worldview.

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Siddhartha: A Novel

By Hermann Hesse

Book cover of Siddhartha: A Novel

Why this book?

As someone who was raised in the “religion of atheism” by two cynical parents, I was at first resistant to reading this book that was so popular with the spiritual crowd. However, after reading Siddhartha, I changed my mind entirely. Here was someone who walked the walk with very little talk, forsaking a privileged lifestyle to take a journey into the unknown on a quest to find life’s meaning. There were no easy answers or formulas given and after reading the book twice it dawned on me that the search itself might be the answer. What better lesson could be absorbed by a future writer? I will always be grateful to Hermann Hesse for opening my mind.

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A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

By James Joyce

Book cover of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Why this book?

It gives me goosebumps to remember reading this book, caressing each wondrous page before turning to the next. The innocent anguish and confusion of Joyce’s language captured Stephan Dedalus's tormented yet profoundly beautiful childhood so perfectly that it made me feel like the book had been written especially for me! Many passages were pure poetry, yet so earthy I could smell the streets and playgrounds of Dublin. This was unlike any of the novels we were reading in school and I made sure to lend it to as many friends as I could – I was that sure they’d love it too. 

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Little Women

By Louisa May Alcott

Book cover of Little Women

Why this book?

It was no accident that after reading Little Women I started to go by the nickname “Jo,” inspired by the rambunctious tomboy in this beautiful story of love, laughter, and sisterly quarrels set during the travails of the Civil War. With no biological sister of my own, I was deeply attached to my best friend Daria, who lived across the street in the Bronx. We walked to school together every morning and even wrote some stories together that in later years provided some good laughs. We also shared books, and Little Women was a favorite.

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A Little Princess

By Frances Hodgson Burnett

Book cover of A Little Princess

Why this book?

I read A Little Princess when I was only ten, with no idea that it was a classic. All I knew was that I totally identified with Sarah, the protagonist, as she was buffeted by the vicissitudes of fortune. The issues of class portrayed in this book were already on my young mind, since I grew up in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the Bronx but also spent a lot of time in the wealthy environs of Manhattan and the contrast was immense. I was impressed by Sarah’s resilience and her ability to empathize with others in spite of the awful hand that had been dealt to her.

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