The best books with protagonists coming-of-age while facing seemingly insurmountable challenges

Why am I passionate about this?

I was a teenager in the late sixties, born into a conservative household, with a huge rebellious streak. Starting with Woodstock, I was obsessed with hippie culture. Communes in particular held a special fascination for me, and later, as places of potential depravity. My sister-in-law lived in a commune in Oregon in the late 60s/early 70s. Many of the details in my novel are pulled from her life, and though she is no longer alive, her adult children shared stories from their childhoods. Her oldest daughter, whom I fictionalized as Shoshanna, became the character and voice I used to recount the family’s escape and eventual safe landing. The story still feels like uncovered family history.


I wrote...

Disappear Home

By Laura Hurwitz,

Book cover of Disappear Home

What is my book about?

In 1970, as the hippie movement is losing its innocence, Shoshanna and her six-year-old sister, Mara, escape from Sweet Earth Farm, a declining commune run by their tyrannical and abusive father, Adam. Their mother, Ella, takes them to San Francisco, where they meet one of her old friends, Judy, and all decide to head off and try to make a life together. 

Finding a safe haven at the farm of kind, elderly Avery Elliot, the four of them find some measure of peace and stability. Then their mother's crippling depression returns. Confused and paranoid, Ella is convinced that she and the girls must leave before Adam finds them and exacts revenge. The girls don’t wish to leave the only stable home they’ve ever had. Will Shoshanna ever live a "normal" life?
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The books I picked & why

Book cover of To Kill a Mockingbird

Laura Hurwitz Why did I love this book?

To Kill a Mockingbird is not only the go-to classic coming-of-age tale, Harper Lee’s story is set in a time and place of seismic shift – small-town American South at the slow, dangerous dawn of the Civil Rights movement. Lee explores morality, racism, family, and courage through the eyes of Scout, who ages from six to nine throughout the course of the story. Lee also creates a constellation of authentic characters, among them Scout’s attorney father, Atticus, and beautifully maintains Scout’s at first innocent, then, increasingly knowing voice. Scout is precisely my favorite protagonist, an open, curious, and trusted narrator, and what inspires are the lessons Scout learns as she observes her small town of Mayfield and human nature over the course of a racially-charged trial.

By Harper Lee,

Why should I read it?

36 authors picked To Kill a Mockingbird as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit 'em, but remember it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.'

Atticus Finch gives this advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of this classic novel - a black man charged with attacking a white girl. Through the eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Lee explores the issues of race and class in the Deep South of the 1930s with compassion and humour. She also creates one of the great heroes of literature in their father, whose lone struggle for justice pricks the conscience of a town steeped…


Book cover of The Fault in Our Stars

Laura Hurwitz Why did I love this book?

The fact that Green’s protagonist Hazel faces a terminal cancer diagnosis as she is coming of age is fraught enough to engage me as a reader, but it’s Hazel’s pragmatic, wry, and wise voice that utterly pulled me in. Green’s Hazel is both human and tragic. Enter Augustus, the guy she meets and falls for at a cancer patient support group, and all of the learning she has done to face her mortality takes on a whole new dimension as she navigates young love and enormous loss. Green’s prose is moving and smart, his characters resonant. It’s what I look for in a YA read, and what I strive to write myself; a tested yet curious and open protagonist navigating daunting terrain.

By John Green,

Why should I read it?

12 authors picked The Fault in Our Stars as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

The beloved, #1 global bestseller by John Green, author of The Anthropocene Reviewed and Turtles All the Way Down

"John Green is one of the best writers alive." -E. Lockhart, #1 bestselling author of We Were Liars

"The greatest romance story of this decade." -Entertainment Weekly

#1 New York Times Bestseller * #1 Wall Street Journal Bestseller * #1 USA Today Bestseller * #1 International Bestseller

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters…


Book cover of Slouching Towards Bethlehem: Essays

Laura Hurwitz Why did I love this book?

Simply put, the death knell of the sixties clearly explained. My favorite turbulent decade as described by my all-time favorite author. Didion’s style is incisive and brilliant, and she manages to find the exact moments in the demise of the hippie movement that define both its idealism and cynicism. The children in her essay, the titular Slouching Towards Bethlehem made me want to write about the impact this social movement had on children born into it. She chooses her defining moments so well! Didion’s essays made me understand how both non-fiction and essay could move me, emotionally, in the same way getting lost in a story can. 

By Joan Didion,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Slouching Towards Bethlehem as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Joan Didion's savage masterpiece, which, since first publication in 1968, has been acknowledged as an unparalleled report on the state of America during the upheaval of the Sixties Revolution.

We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were

In her non-fiction work, Joan Didion not only describes the subject at hand - her younger self loving and leaving New York, the murderous housewife, the little girl trailing the rock group, the millionaire bunkered in his mansion…


Book cover of The Age of Miracles

Laura Hurwitz Why did I love this book?

I love The Age of Miracles because I was so taken with Walker’s scientific premise, that by the “slowing” of rotation, the world would come to its inevitable end. This scientifically grounded plot point was something I found arresting; it fascinated me immediately. I also loved Walker’s eleven-year-old protagonist, Julia. Julia is genuine, believable, set in her strange but also eerily recognizable nearing-the-apocalypse world. Julia also has a rich, and I felt very authentic, inner life. Her emotions rang true, and the plot not only riveted me, it broke my heart. 

By Karen Thompson Walker,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

'It is never what you worry over that comes to pass in the end. The real catastrophes are always different - unimagined, unprepared for, unknown...'

What if our 24-hour day grew longer, first in minutes, then in hours, until day becomes night and night becomes day? What effect would this slowing have on the world? On the birds in the sky, the whales in the sea, the astronauts in space, and on an eleven-year-old girl, grappling with emotional changes in her own life..?

One morning, Julia and her parents wake up in their suburban home in California to discover, along…


Book cover of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl

Laura Hurwitz Why did I love this book?

Anne’s diary is the world’s foremost first-hand account of coming of age in a time of peril, and also while in hiding. Anne’s own words are smart, funny, and profound. She bears witness to her plight, her growth, her hardships, and her joy. She embodies the concept of lighting a candle rather than cursing the darkness. Anne is a symbol of the power of the written word to illuminate everything and resound eternally. Anne’s diary is both intimate, personal, and a sweeping testament to the power of a single voice to speak to generations. I love how her daily observations, started in the tiny space of the Secret Annex, now embody the epitome of hope and goodness. 

By Anne Frank, B.M. Mooyaart (translator),

Why should I read it?

11 authors picked Anne Frank as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 14, 15, 16, and 17.

What is this book about?

With 30 per cent more material than previous editions, this new contemporary and fully anglicized translation gives the reader a deeper insight into Anne's world. Publication of the unabridged Definitive Edition on Penguin Audiobook, read by Helena Bonham-Carter, coincides.


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The Cowboy's Lost Family

By Roxanne Snopek,

Book cover of The Cowboy's Lost Family

Roxanne Snopek

New book alert!

What is my book about?

He’s looking for the one thing she’s done with: family.

Brade Oliver arrives in Grand, Montana, looking for blood—and answers. Genetic tests reveal that his biological family may reside in the small, western town, and he’s on a mission to finally discover the one thing his adoptive family couldn’t give him: the truth.

Kendall McKinley craves a normal life, free of the demands, drama, and constraints of her dysfunctional family. Despite being focused on building her career and working on a restoration project, Kendall can’t help herself from noticing a handsome stranger the first night he arrives. But when Brade…

The Cowboy's Lost Family

By Roxanne Snopek,

What is this book about?

He’s looking for the one thing she’s done with: family.

Brade Oliver arrives in Grand, Montana, looking for blood—and answers. Genetic tests reveal that his biological family may reside in the small, western town, and he’s on a mission to finally discover the one thing his adoptive family couldn’t give him: the truth.

Kendall McKinley craves a normal life, free of the demands, drama, and constraints of her dysfunctional family. Despite being focused on building her career and working on a restoration project, Kendall can’t help herself from noticing a handsome stranger the first night he arrives. But when Brade…


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Interested in coming of age, bildungsroman, and California?

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