The best books about the pain of growing up

Why am I passionate about this?

My Last Innocent Year is about a young woman losing innocence and gaining wisdom (the flip side of the coin) as she does the hard and necessary work of becoming herself. As Isabel navigates the transition from child to adult, she discovers that adults are, in fact, as lost and confused as she is. The books I have chosen are ones that explore the sometime (often) painful process of growing up and the joy that comes from learning that our voice matters. As the mother of three teenagers, I feel I’m witnessing this transition in real time.


I wrote...

Book cover of My Last Innocent Year

What is my book about?

It’s 1998 and Isabel Rosen, the only daughter of a Lower East Side appetizing store owner, has one semester left at Wilder College. Desperate to shed her working-class roots and still mourning the death of her mother, Isabel has always felt like an outsider at Wilder, but believes she’s found her place—until a nonconsensual sexual encounter with another student leaves her reeling.

Enter R. H. Connelly, a once-famous poet and Isabel’s writing professor. Connelly makes Isabel feel seen, beautiful, talented: the woman she longs to become. But as their relationship deepens, Isabel discovers that the line between youth and adulthood is less defined than she thought.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Marlena

Daisy Alpert Florin Why did I love this book?

“Tell me what you can’t forget, and I’ll tell you who you are.”

Thus begins Marlena, Julie Buntin’s debut novel about Marlena and Cat, who meet as fifteen-year-olds in rural Michigan. Their friendship is intense and complicated, and right from the start, we know that Cat is the only one who makes it out alive.

Buntin’s writing perfectly captures the voice and texture of adolescence, and her book is a model for how to maintain tension in a story when you find out early on (page 6 to be exact) that one of the main characters is dead.

The sections featuring Cat as an adult show that while she may have left her small town behind, she can’t escape her past. 

By Julie Buntin,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Marlena is a vivid portrayal of an intoxicating friendship and the dangers it leads to; perfect for fans of The Girls by Emma Cline and My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.

Everything about fifteen-year-old Cat's new town in rural Michigan is lonely and off-kilter, until she meets her neighbour, the manic, beautiful, pill-popping Marlena. Cat, inexperienced and desperate for connection, is quickly lured into Marlena's orbit by little more than an arched eyebrow and a shake of white-blonde hair. As the two girls turn the untamed landscape of their desolate small town into a kind of playground, Cat catalogues a…


Book cover of The Lying Life of Adults

Daisy Alpert Florin Why did I love this book?

You don’t need me to recommend Ferrante, but I will anyway.

A ferocious story about the pain of leaving childhood behind, Ferrante tells the story of Giovanna, a sheltered only child whose life changes when she overhears her father compare her to his sister Vittoria, from whom he is estranged: “She’s getting the face of Vittoria.”

With that, Giovanna is thrown into an existential crisis that leads her to connect with her mysterious aunt, the dark side of Ferrante’s beloved Naples as well as herself. 

Ferrante understands the cruelty of women better than anyone and creates drama with the subtlest glance or turn of phrase.

Here she is at the height of her power, weaving a tense, glittering story that revolves, in part, around who is the rightful owner of a bracelet.

By Elena Ferrante, Ann Goldstein (translator),

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Lying Life of Adults as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"AN INCENDIARY PORTRAIT OF THE VOLCANIC CURRENTS OF SEX AND BETRAYAL."-Mail on Sunday

THE INTERNATIONAL No. 1 BESTSELLER FROM THE AUTHOR OF MY BRILLIANT FRIEND

A BBC2 Between The Covers Book Club Pick

BRITISH BOOK AWARDS 2021 - SHORTLISTED FOR FICTION BOOK OF THE YEAR

Soon to be a NETFLIX original series

18M OF ELENA FERRANTE'S BOOKS SLOD WORLDWIDE


Giovanna's pretty face has changed: it's turning into the face of an ugly, spiteful adolescent. But is she seeing things as they really are? Where must she look to find her true reflection and a life she can claim as her…


Book cover of My Dark Vanessa

Daisy Alpert Florin Why did I love this book?

Hailed as the first novel of the #MeToo movement, Russell’s debut grabs you by the throat and never lets you go.

Vanessa Wye is a bright, insecure fifteen-year-old when she meets Jacob Strane, her magnetic and manipulative English teacher. Before long, their relationship crosses the line into abuse.

Beautifully written and emotionally gutting, Russell succeeds above all in showing the long tail of abuse. We watch as Vanessa loses her innocence twice; first, at the hands of Strane and later as she realizes that what she thought was a great love story was in fact anything but.

By Kate Elizabeth Russell,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked My Dark Vanessa as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An instant New York Times and Sunday Times bestseller SHORTLISTED FOR THE 2021 DYLAN THOMAS AWARD

'A package of dynamite' Stephen King

'Powerful, compulsive, brilliant' Marian Keyes

An era-defining novel about the relationship between a fifteen-year-old girl and her teacher

ALL HE DID WAS FALL IN LOVE WITH ME AND THE WORLD TURNED HIM INTO A MONSTER

Vanessa Wye was fifteen-years-old when she first had sex with her English teacher.

She is now thirty-two and in the storm of allegations against powerful men in 2017, the teacher, Jacob Strane, has just been accused of sexual abuse by another former student.…


Book cover of Slow Motion: A True Story

Daisy Alpert Florin Why did I love this book?

Shapiro’s first memoir tells the story of the car accident that killed her father and seriously injured her mother, the event that “divides [her] life into before and after.”

At the time of the accident, Shapiro is adrift, a college dropout, involved in a toxic relationship with an older man. The accident, and its aftermath, forces her to wake up from her extended adolescence and face adulthood head on, to ultimately decide the kind of person she wants to be.

By Dani Shapiro,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Slow Motion as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From one of the most gifted writers of her  generation comes the harrowing and exqui-sitely written true story of how a family tragedy saved her life. Dani Shapiro was a young girl from a deeply religious home who became the girlfriend of a famous and flamboyant married attorney--her best friend's stepfather. The moment Lenny Klein entered her life, everything changed: she dropped out of college, began to drink heavily, and became estranged from her family and friends. But then the  phone call came. There had been an accident on a snowy road near her family's home in New Jersey, and…


Book cover of Writers & Lovers

Daisy Alpert Florin Why did I love this book?

There’s nothing I don’t love about this novel: its Cambridge, Massachusetts setting; pitch-perfect descriptions of restaurant work; love triangle.

It’s 1997, and Casey Peabody wants to be a writer. “You know,” a man says after asking how her novel is going, “I just find it extraordinary that you think you have something to say.”

Throughout this gorgeous novel about art, commerce, love, and grief, Casey must hold fast to that truth—that she does have something to say—despite the world’s best efforts at snuffing it out.

A quietly revolutionary portrait of a woman on the brink, Writers and Lovers shows us how to let go of the story we’ve been brought up to tell about ourselves.

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:…


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Book cover of Liddy-Jean Marketing Queen and the Matchmaking Scheme

Mari Sangiovanni

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What is my book about?

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What is this book about?

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