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

Shepherd is readers supported. When you buy through links on our website, we may earn an affiliate commission. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

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.

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.


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.


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. 

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.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in girls, New York State, and New York City?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about girls, New York State, and New York City.

Girls Explore 65 books about girls
New York State Explore 380 books about New York State
New York City Explore 529 books about New York City

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Beyond the Pale, Girlhood, and City of Spies if you like this list.