The best humorous yet heart-tugging coming-of-age books for aging readers

Who am I?

I'm not Maggie, my title character, but we share a smart mouth, and it has put me in the dog house more than once. Coming-of-age stories appeal to my “Will-I-ever-grow-up?” nature. At any given moment you’re as old as you’ve ever been, which is why an adolescent, lost in unfolding maturity, seldom has the sense of a zygote—nor does a twenty-something, thirty-something, and on up the line (sixty-six and counting). A backward glance is your best bet at gleaning pearls of wisdom. Passing from one life-phase into another is awkward at best. Its navigation, something humans share regardless of time or place, lends to humor. Oh, there’s heartache. Often suffering. But in laughter lies hope.


I wrote...

A Kiss for Maggie Moore

By Micki R. Pettit,

Book cover of A Kiss for Maggie Moore

What is my book about?

Smart-mouthed Maggie Moore is instantly smitten with the laid-back, sometimes infuriating Bucky. Too bad he has eyes for her best friend Melinda. Their triangle of friendship and emerging romance is easily eclipsed by the free-spirited adventures of childhood, but when the turmoil of adolescence stirs unresolved feelings, and doing the right thing means betraying her own heart, Maggie must grapple with a moral dilemma that impacts them all. With a supporting cast of unforgettable characters, and set against the backdrop of rural Wyoming during the cultural upheaval of the 1960s, Micki R. Pettit gracefully weaves an endearing and humorous tale of first experiences that cut to the heart of sacrificial love.

The books I picked & why

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Summer of '42

By Herman Raucher,

Book cover of Summer of '42

Why this book?

I read The Summer of ‘42 in the spring of ’71, before the movie came out. Having been a teen in the 1940s, my father was intrigued by the title and bought it. I remember him laughing out loud, more than once. Being a curious fifteen-year-old, I had to find out what the hoopla was. Pubescent stirrings, mostly—that awkward stage in life, relatable no matter the era or place. In this case, love’s call comes during a summer vacation in 1942 on Nantucket Island. Hermie, his best friend, Oscy, and their nerd buddy, Benjie, are obsessed with sex—how to get it, how to do it, and how to share information once any progress is made in its endeavor. But when Hermie forms a relationship with a married woman whose husband has just left for the war, he becomes less forthright with his friends. Sometimes innocence lost is best told through the forgiving veil of nostalgia.

Summer of '42

By Herman Raucher,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Summer of '42 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

" SUMMER OF '42 is a charming and tender novel...The overall effect is one of high hilarity. Raucher is a comic-artist who is able to convey the fears and joys...of the boy and at the same time give older readers a wrench in the heart. " - PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

A classic coming-of-age story and international bestseller.

Captivating and evocative, Herman Raucher's semi-autobiographical tale has been made into a record-breaking Academy Award nominated hit movie, adapted for the stage, and enchanted readers for generations.

In the summer of 1942, Hermie is fifteen. He is wildly obsessed with sex, and passionately in…


Last Bus to Wisdom

By Ivan Doig,

Book cover of Last Bus to Wisdom

Why this book?

Infused with a Western voice, Last Bus to Wisdom plopped me down into my native neck of the woods. Redheaded Donal has never been out of Montana, but that changes in June of 1951 when Gram needs an operation due to “female trouble.” With a wicker suitcase, thirty bucks safety-pinned inside his shirt, and an imagination that gets him into trouble, young Donal takes the Greyhound bound for Wisconsin to spend the summer with Gram’s sister, his only other living relative. Aunt Kate is a bossy broad, to say the least, who’s not at all nice to her sweet-natured husband, Herman the German, let alone Donal. It’s more than any self-respecting kid can stand. So Donal skidaddles, taking the dog bus back to Montana, and Herman the German tags along for the journey. More tale spinning and trouble getting-into ensues. Their misadventures are worth the ride, and a hoot to boot. 

Last Bus to Wisdom

By Ivan Doig,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Last Bus to Wisdom as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Named a Best Book of the Year by the Seattle Times and Kirkus Review

The final novel from a great American storyteller.

Donal Cameron is being raised by his grandmother, the cook at the legendary Double W ranch in Ivan Doig’s beloved Two Medicine Country of the Montana Rockies, a landscape that gives full rein to an eleven-year-old’s imagination. But when Gram has to have surgery for “female trouble” in the summer of 1951, all she can think to do is to ship Donal off to her sister in faraway Manitowoc, Wisconsin. There Donal is in for a rude surprise:…


Miss Benson's Beetle

By Rachel Joyce,

Book cover of Miss Benson's Beetle

Why this book?

Not all coming-of-age novels involve adultescents. Sometimes grownups have to grow up. Such is the case with Margery Benson—English spinster, frumpy teacher, and boot-thieving fugitive—who reluctantly hires Enid Pretty, Margery’s polar opposite in looks and personality, to be her expedition assistant. The quest: the golden beetle of New Caledonia. An unlikely friendship blossoms as the two women travel from London halfway around the world in pursuit of a bug that may or may not exist, all the while being shadowed by a malaria-deranged former World War II prisoner-of-war. A female buddy book set in the 1950s, Miss Benson’s Beetle is a whacky yet heart-tugging read whose heroines come to love each despite their foibles and flaws and learn the empowerment of coming into one’s own.

Miss Benson's Beetle

By Rachel Joyce,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked Miss Benson's Beetle as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE WILBUR SMITH ADVENTURE WRITING PRIZE | BEST PUBLISHED NOVEL
WOMAN & HOME BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR and A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

'The perfect escape novel for our troubled times.' PATRICK GALE

It is 1950. In a devastating moment of clarity, Margery Benson abandons her dead-end job and advertises for an assistant to accompany her on an expedition. She is going to travel to the other side of the world to search for a beetle that may or may not exist.
Enid Pretty, in her unlikely pink travel suit, is not the companion Margery had in…


The Power of One

By Bryce Courtenay,

Book cover of The Power of One

Why this book?

Never would I expect to fall in love with a book whose anchor is boxing, but that’s exactly what happened when I read The Power of One. Possibly because Peekay—an abandoned boy of English heritage growing up in South Africa after the Boer War and during the rise of Nazi Germany—is so damn loveable. Possibly because the author is adept at weaving audacious characters, cultural clash, and mysticism into a delightful yet thought-provoking yarn. The Power of One had me at chapter one when Peekay’s Zulu nanny, a medicine man, and a chicken named Granpa Chook cure his “night water.” It takes some fancy footwork for Peekay to go from bed-wetter to welterweight champion of the world, and I was in the ring with him every step of the way.

The Power of One

By Bryce Courtenay,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked The Power of One as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“The Power of One has everything: suspense, the exotic, violence; mysticism, psychology and magic; schoolboy adventures, drama.”
–The New York Times

“Unabashedly uplifting . . . asserts forcefully what all of us would like to believe: that the individual, armed with the spirit of independence–‘the power of one’–can prevail.”
–Cleveland Plain Dealer

In 1939, as Hitler casts his enormous, cruel shadow across the world, the seeds of apartheid take root in South Africa. There, a boy called Peekay is born. His childhood is marked by humiliation and abandonment, yet he vows to survive and conceives heroic dreams–which are nothing compared…


Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

By Jamie Ford,

Book cover of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Why this book?

In the great American melting pot, young love often gets caught between cultures. Such is the case with Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, a novel set in Seattle, Washington, during the onset of Japanese internment camps. American-born Henry Lee is the only child of Chinese nationalists who insist he wear a button saying “I am Chinese” to avoid being identified as Japanese—not a good thing, especially after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Henry’s schoolmate, Keiko, a third-generation US citizen, doesn’t speak the language of her Japanese ancestors. She expresses her fundamental identification with words. “I am American.” Together they share a lunchroom job, a growing love for jazz, and an understanding of what it means to be in the lower strata of an immigrant nation. Told with tenderness and a sprinkle of humor by an older, wiser Henry, the aptly titled Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet still lingers on my literary taste buds.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

By Jamie Ford,

Why should I read it?

5 authors picked Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

1986, The Panama Hotel The old Seattle landmark has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made a startling discovery in the basement: personal belongings stored away by Japanese families sent to interment camps during the Second World War. Among the fascinated crowd gathering outside the hotel, stands Henry Lee, and, as the owner unfurls a distinctive parasol, he is flooded by memories of his childhood. He wonders if by some miracle, in amongst the boxes of dusty treasures, lies a link to the Okabe family, and the girl he lost his young heart to, so…


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