The best unconventional coming-of-age stories with quirky settings

Alexandra Teague Author Of The Principles Behind Flotation
By Alexandra Teague

Who am I?

The teen years—with huge emotional swings, first times, and self-definition are such a fascinating, rich time, and having lived in seven states, I’m particularly interested in stories that show a character coming of age within a specific, surprising place. As a child, I loved From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, about kids running away to live at a museum; now I prefer stories on adult themes within adolescence, but I still love books about places that are themselves like characters. I’m sure it helps that I grew up in a strange, small Victorian tourist town in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, which I drew on for The Principles Behind Flotation.


I wrote...

The Principles Behind Flotation

By Alexandra Teague,

Book cover of The Principles Behind Flotation

What is my book about?

Set in the Arkansas Ozarks, where an inland sea appeared in a cow pasture in 1954—supposedly because of a miracle—The Principles Behind Flotation is the story of Anastasia Zoe (or A.Z., as she renames herself), a 14-year-old who is obsessed with studying the Sea and becoming an oceanographer. A novel about alternative teenagers in the 1980s South—with feuding churches, chicken rights protests, a sailboat made from a junk pile, and an escaped alligator (that might be Satan)—The Principles Behind Flotation is a humorous, quirky coming-of-age story in which A.Z. must reconcile her oceanic destiny with her seemingly landlocked home.

The books I picked & why

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Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

By Alison Bechdel,

Book cover of Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

Why this book?

Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir about growing up with a father who directed a funeral home, and her complicated relationship with him, is on my short list of very favorite books. Each time I read it, I notice new details about the incredible drawings and writing, which are funny and heartbreaking and deal with themes of death and obsessive home decorating and mental health and sexuality.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

By Alison Bechdel,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked Fun Home as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

DISCOVER the BESTSELLING GRAPHIC MEMOIR behind the Olivier Award nominated musical.

'A sapphic graphic treat' The Times

A moving and darkly humorous family tale, pitch-perfectly illustrated with Alison Bechdel's gothic drawings. If you liked Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis you'll love this.

Meet Alison's father, a historic preservation expert and obsessive restorer of the family's Victorian home, a third-generation funeral home director, a high-school English teacher, an icily distant parent, and a closeted homosexual who, as it turns out, is involved with his male students and the family babysitter. When Alison comes out as homosexual herself in late adolescence, the denouement is…


Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?

By Lorrie Moore,

Book cover of Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?

Why this book?

A friend only recently introduced me to this amazing, slight novel about two close friends who work together the summer they’re fifteen at the Storyland amusement park. With Moore’s beautiful descriptions and nuanced depiction of the complications of friendship and growing up, this is really one of the truest accounts of teen girlhood I’ve ever read, and it plays into my own fascination with amusement parks as spaces where fantasy and reality interestingly overlap.

Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?

By Lorrie Moore,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"Touches and dazzles and entertains. An enchanting novel." --The New York Times

In this moving, poignant novel by the bestselling author of Birds of America we share a grown woman’s bittersweet nostalgia for the wildness of her youth.
 
The summer Berie was fifteen, she and her best friend Sils had jobs at Storyland in upstate New York where Berie sold tickets to see the beautiful Sils portray Cinderella in a strapless evening gown. They spent their breaks smoking, joking, and gossiping. After work they followed their own reckless rules, teasing the fun out of small town life, sleeping in the…


Swamplandia!

By Karen Russell,

Book cover of Swamplandia!

Why this book?

Swamplandia! is a wonderful intersection of nuanced relationships and place—this time the Florida coast (where I’ve also lived) and a family of alligator wrestlers (which I definitely haven’t done!). Not to give anything away, but there’s a scene near the end involving the protagonist, Ava, and the Bird Man, which is the most incredible moment I’ve ever read of a character realizing that their perception may not match reality.

Swamplandia!

By Karen Russell,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

New York Times Bestseller | Pulitzer Prize Finalist

"Ms. Russell is one in a million. . . . A suspensfuly, deeply haunted book."--The New York Times

Thirteen-year-old Ava Bigtree has lived her entire life at Swamplandia!, her family’s island home and gator-wrestling theme park in the Florida Everglades. But when illness fells Ava’s mother, the park’s indomitable headliner, the family is plunged into chaos; her father withdraws, her sister falls in love with a spooky character known as the Dredgeman, and her brilliant big brother, Kiwi, defects to a rival park called The World of Darkness.

As Ava sets out…


Housekeeping

By Marilynne Robinson,

Book cover of Housekeeping

Why this book?

Set on a fictionalized version of Lake Pend Oreille, in my current home state of Idaho, this is a poetic, beautiful story of two sisters, and Robinson’s writing is liquid and clear and rippled as the lake. The train that crosses the lake on a long track is a central part of the book, and the first time I saw the train bridge, after I moved to Idaho, I went running out toward the water yelling “there it is!! The train across Fingerbone!” I love when a book becomes a part of a place so powerfully that it seems as real as the actual landscape. 

Housekeeping

By Marilynne Robinson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Winner of the Pen/Hemingway Award

A modern classic, Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping is the story of Ruth and her younger sister, Lucille, who grow up haphazardly, first under the care of their competent grandmother, then of two comically bumbling great-aunts, and finally of Sylvie, the eccentric and remote sister of their dead mother.

The family house is in the small town of Fingerbone on a glacial lake in the Far West, the same lake where their grandfather died in a spectacular train wreck and their mother drove off a cliff to her death. It is a town "chastened by an outsized…


Priestdaddy: A Memoir

By Patricia Lockwood,

Book cover of Priestdaddy: A Memoir

Why this book?

Not just a coming-of-age story, but definitely with elements of it, Patricia Lockwood’s memoir about growing up with a Catholic priest for a father is riotously funny and filled with some of the best descriptions and metaphors I’ve ever read. If you think Lockwood’s father being a priest is strange, that’s just the beginning of the wild, real characters—with scenes including her father playing electric guitar in his underwear in the rectory. And the book is filled with insights into family and writing and faith and health and all kinds of other subjects. I’ve recommended this to multiple friends and my own father, and everyone loves it.

Priestdaddy: A Memoir

By Patricia Lockwood,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Priestdaddy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW STATESMAN AND OBSERVER BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2017

'Glorious' Sunday Times
'Laugh-out-loud funny' The Times
'Extraordinary' Observer
'Exceptional' Telegraph
'Electric' New York Times
'Snort-out-loud' Financial Times
'Dazzling' Guardian
'Do yourself a favour and read this memoir!' BookPage

The childhood of Patricia Lockwood, the poet dubbed' The Smutty-Metaphor Queen of Lawrence, Kansas' by The New York Times, was unusual in many respects. There was the location: an impoverished, nuclear waste-riddled area of the American Midwest. There was her mother, a woman who speaks almost entirely in strange riddles and warnings of impending danger. Above all, there was her gun-toting, guitar-riffing,…


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