83 books directly related to coming of age 📚

All 83 coming of age books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

Book cover of Farmer in the Sky

Farmer in the Sky

By Robert A. Heinlein

Why this book?

All of Robert Heinlein's YA novels are good (better, in my opinion, than his adult novels), but this one has special meaning for me because it was the first book I ever read about colonizing an uninhabited world. At the time it was published in 1950 I was sixteen and had been enthusiastic about the possibility of space travel for four years, since long before the general public was familiar with it; but all the space fiction I knew of was about mere adventure, usually adventure focused on fighting. The idea that families could someday settle a new planet--and, despite…
From the list:

The best young adult books about imaginary worlds

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Book cover of Blankets: A Graphic Novel

Blankets: A Graphic Novel

By Craig Thompson

Why this book?

Blankets changed my life for the better. I really connected with this novel. It was the first graphic memoir I had ever read and I loved it so much. Everything from the story and characters, to the flowing pen and ink art style. It was glorious! I could not put it down and read it from cover to cover. Upside-down and backward. I couldn’t get enough of this book. It taught me to be more forgiving and understanding of people. I laughed, I cried. I felt like this book was missing from my life and I had found something truly…

From the list:

The best graphic memoirs with creativity and flair

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Book cover of The Whale Surfaces: Prequel to Escaping The Whale

The Whale Surfaces: Prequel to Escaping The Whale

By Ruth Rotkowitz

Why this book?

After reading Escaping The Whale, I was eager to meet Marcia Gold as a young girl. Here again, Ruth Rotkowitz does not disappoint. The desires and dreams of Holocaust survivors for their children to have an innocent and happy childhood are not always possible. Marcia, a young girl in the 1960's experiences the impact of her parent's history and the complications they bring to the anxiety of adolescence and the emotional problems that will be part of her life in the future.

From the list:

The best novels on post-Holocaust coming of age fiction

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Book cover of Girlhood

Girlhood

By Melissa Febos

Why this book?

Our culture treats girlhood as a time when young females are frivolous, catty, and obsessed with selfies. Not Febos. She takes seriously the formation of self that happens in girlhood as sexuality, cultural messages, desire, ambition, and abuse press on our bodies and psyches. Her exploration of her own girlhood helped me look back at my own and respect my scrappy self.
From the list:

The best books if you want to read the messy, brutal, glorious truth of women’s bodies and their lives

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Book cover of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

By J.K. Rowling

Why this book?

When I first finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (the 7th and final book in J. K. Rowling’s epic fantasy franchise), I knew I was holding a most exquisite piece of fiction. As a long-time researcher of superb world-building and soft magic systems, I found myself positively engulfed and enthralled by this novel. Harry Potter’s magical and whimsical world is penciled in both fine lines and broad strokes, building towards an epic and rewarding conclusion that had me on the edge of my seat. Harry’s moral conundrum of “Horcruxes” vs. “Hallows”, which ultimately decides the path to…

From the list:

The best epic fantasy books with soft magic systems

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Book cover of Boy's Life

Boy's Life

By Robert McCammon

Why this book?

While The Body is poignant and nostalgic, and The Traveling Vampire Show is goofy fun, A Boy’s Life is simply a very solid, weighty, well-written tale. McCammon nails the mindset of his young protagonist so much so it’s hard for the reader not to feel like a twelve-year-old kid again, viewing the world through impressionable and innocent eyes. It’s a book that will evoke memories of your own childhood, and it is one you will remember long after you have stopped reading.

From the list:

The best coming-of-age horror novels

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Book cover of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

By Jeanette Winterson

Why this book?

A lesbian adopted by evangelists. Enough said. This book has it all—from unique voice to inventive storytelling—and holds up today even though it was written in 1985 and takes place in the 1960s. It is a story as much about seeking to understand those who oppress as it is a story of the queer outsider searching for personal freedom in a world both hidden from her and, ultimately, not built for her. Gorgeously written, it moves me to read any prose by Winterson.

From the list:

The best historical bildungsroman (coming-of-age) novels

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Book cover of Izzy, Willy-Nilly

Izzy, Willy-Nilly

By Cynthia Voigt

Why this book?

Izzy is a nice girl. She’s pretty, popular, and smart. But one ride with a drunk driver changes her entire life. With one leg amputated, she must embrace a new life and find new friends who see her as more than a girl with a handicap. I liked Izzy so much, and it was thrilling to see her believably move on with her life. I see disabled young people with different eyes since reading Izzy’s story.

From the list:

The best coming-of-age books for almost any age

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Book cover of Bridge to Terabithia

Bridge to Terabithia

By Katherine Paterson, Donna Diamond

Why this book?

The concept of a hidden space away from adults and the problems of everyday life is the enthralling concept behind Bridge to Terabithia. Deep in the woods near their homes, Jess and Leslie share their own imaginary kingdom which they call Terabithia—a place hidden away from the pressures of the world. This coming-of-age tale packs an emotional punch, no matter the age of the reader. I love the magical settings in the book and they directly influenced the way I decided to write my own book.

From the list:

The best young adult books with secret places

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Book cover of Monogamy

Monogamy

By Sue Miller

Why this book?

This book is a page-turner. Annie, the main character in this novel has just found out her husband has been having an affair. The book circles back to their marriage and how completely different they are. 

Somehow the relationship works as they totally balanced each other. I love how Sue Miller creates pictures of characters so we get to know them at a granular level. I ended up loving all of them despite their imperfections. Annie makes a life for herself as a widow having been transformed by the man she loved. Opposite personalities can enrich each other as…

From the list:

The best books for partners with opposite personalities

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Book cover of Unless

Unless

By Carol Shields

Why this book?

Carol Shields’ last novel, Unless (published after her death) follows forty-something mom Reta Winters: Reta’s three daughters are almost grown, she has decent work translating French writers, and she has a supportive husband. Then oldest daughter Norah disappears, and it turns out Norah is now living on the streets of downtown Toronto, wearing a sign around her neck that reads “goodness,” but not speaking a word. This sounds like a bleak scenario, having one’s daughter reject everything she’s grown up with and refusing to explain. But Unless is a sharp, thoughtful, and even funny novel, one that’s not like any…

From the list:

The best midlife (yes, midlife!) coming-of-age novels

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Book cover of Calling My Name

Calling My Name

By Liara Tamani

Why this book?

What can I say about Liara Tamani’s beautiful tale of coming of age? The novel carries Taja from middle school through high school, the span of time in which Taja learns her place in her family and the world around her. One of the things I love about this gem is the method in which the story unfolds—in short chapters, reminiscent of the ever-changing whims of the teenage mind. As such, Taja feels as real and breathing as any living soul. Perhaps even more pertinent is the setting of Houston, Texas. While some novels set in fictitious towns do their…

From the list:

The best books with realistic teen characters

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Book cover of Through the Waters and the Wild

Through the Waters and the Wild

By Greg Fields

Why this book?

Through the Waters and the Wild really impacted me because it asks the timeless and relatable questions—“Where shall I go now?” and “What shall I do?” Focused on questions we all ask at some point in life, this wonderfully crafted novel answers that question in a unique way. Moving through the time period of the Irish Civil War, Fields is able to tell the story of a young boy finding his way all the while creating a setting in which is almost unbelievably described. I love this book because it seems as if Fields truly used a time machine, and…

From the list:

The best coming-of-age novels that capture the nature of growth

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Book cover of Southernmost

Southernmost

By Silas House

Why this book?

I loved this book because it is beautiful in so many ways. It is a coming-of-age tale for many of the characters in a unique way. House challenged my view of ways to love, tolerance, and limits of belief. Additionally, I enjoyed this book because of its wonderfully crafted prose. With lessons richly sprinkled on its pages, it provided me with a new way of thinking. The cherry on top for me, was the quite unique plot that as the reader I followed and could not stop until I finished the last page.

From the list:

The best coming-of-age novels that capture the nature of growth

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Book cover of I Wanna Be Where You Are

I Wanna Be Where You Are

By Kristina Forest

Why this book?

I love that our heroine Chloe had a backbone and was able to put our hero Eli in his place and not take his crap. I also like how their road trip adventure to bring Chloe to an important ballet audition starts off with Eli blackmailing her into bringing him, and his dog, along. Eli was another flawed male lead I loved, there were moments where he’s so close to being adorable and perfect, but then he’d be clueless and frustrate Chloe—and me! I really enjoyed that Chloe was ready to forge forward on her own and Eli had to…

From the list:

The best YA romances with bad boys to swoon over

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Book cover of The Midnights

The Midnights

By Sarah Nicole Smetana

Why this book?

This beautiful, lyrical book is a must-read for music lovers. It's a gorgeously written narrative set in a southern California wholly unlike the sun-drenched la-la-land portrayed in most movies and TV shows, a Los Angeles and Orange County filled with earthquakes and wildfires, blistering heat, and endless, dangerous rain. Like the weather in the book, the story is harsh and unrelenting: high school senior Susannah Hayes can't escape the pain of her former rock-star father's death or the need to solve the mystery of his life. At the same time she's discovering her own power as a musician, and making…

From the list:

The best YA books about girls who literally rock

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Book cover of In Stitches

In Stitches

By Anthony Youn

Why this book?

This fast-paced and often humorous memoir explores both medical school and the childhood experiences that led to Dr. Youn’s path as an outsider from the only Korean family in his small Michigan town to a celebrity plastic surgeon.

His redemptive progression from immature, sexually frustrated nerd to altruistic, dedicated physician should provide inspiration and hope for many anxious pre-meds.

From the list:

The best painfully honest books about training to become a doctor

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Book cover of Somebody's Daughter: A Memoir

Somebody's Daughter: A Memoir

By Ashley C. Ford

Why this book?

Like all the young girls in this shortlist of coming-of-age stories, Ashley C. Ford (one of Angelou’s literary children) is a survivor hell-bent on finding a life better than the one she was handed, and, like the others, she is remarkably sensitive, imaginative, and able to paint her world for us in the most tender and unique shapes and colors. How does a young girl weather such brutal realities, experience beauty, and splice together a space for her soul? Ford’s memoir is one such contemporary story. 

From the list:

The best coming-of-age stories by diverse women

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Book cover of Does My Body Offend You?

Does My Body Offend You?

By Mayra Cuevas, Marie Marquardt

Why this book?

This is a YA novel told from the perspectives of two very different strong women. It’s part coming-of-age, part coming-of-action as they learn the best ways to affect change in their communities and how to voice their frustrations with the patriarchy. And we loved how it dealt with these issues in a nuanced and complex way that didn’t offer easy answers.
From the list:

The best books with strong feminist perspectives, coming-of-age themes, and— please god— humor

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Book cover of Black Girl, Call Home

Black Girl, Call Home

By Jasmine Mans

Why this book?

I love pretty packaging, so it's no surprise that Mans' Black Girl, Call Home stopped me in my tracks. The cover art, an over-the-shoulder shot of a young Black girl, her head bedazzled in a rainbow assortment of brightly colored barrettes. For me and Black women across the globe, the image evokes instant nostalgia. Luther on the radio. Me between my mama's legs. And the smell of Blue Magic hair grease slathered on the back of her hand.

Both painful and empowering, Mans' candid approach to feminism, race, and LGBTQ+ identity is wrapped in undeniable realness. Whether readers identify as…

From the list:

The best collection of queer themed books

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Book cover of Recent History

Recent History

By Anthony Giardina

Why this book?

The novel has a remarkable twist on the traditional coming of age story; it’s also a novel about a straight guy coming to terms with his own homophobia.  It’s not a novel about a gay boy, but more a novel about a sraight boy’s understanding of how deeply homophobia has infected his life. 

From the list:

The best books that explore masculinity in some way

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Book cover of The Complete Persepolis

The Complete Persepolis

By Marjane Satrapi

Why this book?

Marjane Satrapi’s powerful graphic novel memoir is one of my all-time favorite books in any genre. The stories that comprise her young life during Iran’s cultural revolution, her eventual solitary exile in Europe, and her post-war return, are riveting, heartbreaking, hilarious, and unforgettable. Illustrated in stunning black and white drawings, Persepolis blends Satrapi’s inner and outer experience of events and characters with such sublime artistry that her story will (if I can predict it) become instantly lodged in your heart. 

From the list:

The best coming-of-age stories by diverse women

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Book cover of Escaping the Whale: The Holocaust is over. But is it ever over for the next generation?

Escaping the Whale: The Holocaust is over. But is it ever over for the next generation?

By Ruth Rotkowitz

Why this book?

I chose this book because it was the first book I read that dealt with the issue of the second generation in a way that was immediately intimate and personal. Set in the eighties, Marcia Gold struggles with the connection and disconnection of people around her toward the events. The challenge of her job as a guidance counselor in helping young girls make decisions, her peer's attitude toward her role, including her boyfriend Jason, all add to her lingering anger, resentment, unexplained dreams, and nightmares. At the end of the story, Marcia decides to rid herself of her demons, the…

From the list:

The best novels on post-Holocaust coming of age fiction

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Book cover of Summerland

Summerland

By Michael Chabon

Why this book?

It feels a little misleading to suggest that a Michael Chabon book is widely underread, but this one almost never comes up when I talk to writers and readers about their favorite baseball novels.  Perhaps it’s because Chabon, one of our most celebrated writers, imagined Summerland as a book for young readers, and while it is surely that, it is also surely so much more. It’s strange and wonderful and oh so beautifully written. The author’s prose jumps off every page with an exit velocity that demands your attention. Read it with your kids or your grandkids. Read it on…

From the list:

The best baseball novels you’ve probably never read

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Book cover of Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

By Alison Bechdel

Why this book?

I was drawn to this graphic memoir because, like me, Bechel grew up with a closeted parent in a heterosexual marriage while being a queer child herself. Like my memoir, Fun Home is also a coming-out story. Her art beautifully details the complexities of family life with both humor and gravitas. Some of the humor involves dead bodies, as her family runs a funeral home. Yet Bechdel must also grapple with profound loss: just after she comes out to her father, he dies by suicide, walking in front of a truck. She wonders if she can infer that he was…

From the list:

The best LGBTQ memoirs of trauma and transformation

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Book cover of Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx

Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx

By Sonia Manzano

Why this book?

Manzano played Maria for more than 40 years on Sesame Street, but this isn’t a book about that show. A sort of next-gen, nonfiction companion to Dominicana, it tells the story of Manzano’s hard-knock childhood in the South Bronx, and how her gifts as an actor and storyteller propelled her out of a rough neighborhood and troubled home (her father physically abused her mother.) Manzano doesn’t paper over the anger she felt and still feels about the systemic forces that ghettoized Hispanic kids like her. But she succeeds in offering hope and modeling Nuyorican success to latter-day versions…

From the list:

The best books about coming of age in New York City

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Book cover of Summer in Williamsburg

Summer in Williamsburg

By Daniel Fuchs

Why this book?

An immersive, impressionistic snapshot of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, as it was in the 1920s and early 1930s, when it was known not for hipsters, craft beer, and creative facial hair but as a Jewish slum rife with yentas and gangsters. Fuchs published this book in 1934 and swiftly followed it up with two more novels, Homage to Blenholt and Low Company. The books didn’t sell, but Fuchs catapulted himself out of the ghetto and into a respectable West Coast life as a Hollywood screenwriter. Only after Fuchs had all but stopped writing fiction did these early books receive a warm…

From the list:

The best books about coming of age in New York City

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Book cover of Another Brooklyn

Another Brooklyn

By Jacqueline Woodson

Why this book?

Woodson’s narrative comprises a mix of genres (poetry, fiction, and non-fiction) to capture the real and imagined memories of her childhood in Brooklyn and the fictional town of Sweet Grove, Tennessee. This book encompasses so much of what is fascinating about nostalgic memory. While nostalgia generates feelings of happiness and hope, these memories often emerge in times of sadness, loss, and uncertainty. Woodson’s exploration into the lives of four black girls as they navigate friendship, the joys, and perils of youth, and the possibilities and broken promises of the future is a rare and compelling take on how nostalgic memories…
From the list:

The best books to inspire good feelings

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Book cover of The Carnival at Bray

The Carnival at Bray

By Jessie Ann Foley

Why this book?

Foley depicts a struggle of finding oneself and learning where one belongs, and holding onto the everchanging definition especially when the geography surrounding us suddenly changes. Maggie and her family migrate from Chicago to Ireland, leaving behind her favorite uncle, and musical influence, the wayward Kevin. Add to this the backdrop of the anticipation of attending a Nirvana concert and you have all the fixings for a well-rounded tale of love, loss, and living. Having had the pleasure of meeting Foley a time or two, I can attest that her sense of setting is as apparent in her identity as…

From the list:

The best books with realistic teen characters

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Book cover of The Color Purple

The Color Purple

By Alice Walker

Why this book?

Celie’s letters to God in The Color Purple, and those to her sister Nettie, tell her story of abuse and exploitation, as well as her capacity for love and her gritty determination. The Color Purple is always cited as an important book, which of course it is, but it’s also an accessible, entertaining, and ultimately inspiring read. 

From the list:

The best books featuring letters that change someone’s life

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Book cover of Suffer the Children

Suffer the Children

By John Saul

Why this book?

Unlike the other authors on this list who mostly write about adult characters, John Saul writes almost exclusively about children (at least he has in all the books I’ve read by him). I chose Suffer The Children for this list because it was the first book he wrote back in 1977, I believe. There are some disturbing moments in it, as there are in most horror novels, so be aware of that. However, Saul is a talented author who can effortlessly get into the heads of the kids he writes about. He’s also a master of the slow-burn, building suspense…

From the list:

The best coming-of-age horror novels

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Book cover of The Perks of Being a Wallflower

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

By Stephen Chbosky

Why this book?

Each page contains many ups and downs, and it is the true definition of emotional. I have felt alongside every character, and Stephen Chbosky does the best job of making sure that readers understand the message: you are not alone. Yes, the characters in this book made me cry, but they also gave me a mix of great joy. My heart was full to the brim of adoration for Charlie, the shy wallflower, and all of his ambitious friends. They seemed to carry me along for the bumpy ride of high school and help me learn more about the many…

From the list:

The best books to inspire you to shoot for the moon

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Book cover of Peak

Peak

By Roland Smith

Why this book?

Peak is a climbing addict in trouble with the law. But he gets to join his estranged father on an expedition to climb Mount Everest. The catch is that his dad just wants to use Peak as a promotion for his climbing company. Peak has to navigate complex relationships, all while trying not to die. I loved the adventure, but also the window into why so many risk it all to reach the top.

From the list:

The best middle grade books that feature an adventurous journey

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Book cover of Keep Sweet

Keep Sweet

By Michele Dominguez Greene

Why this book?

I read this book in two days because the story kept pulling me back. It’s a YA novel that is accurate and haunting in its telling of the life of a young girl trapped in a polygamist cult. I loved how realistic this story felt. To explore what happens when this girl is caught going against the teachings of the cult and the horrific ramifications had me wanting to know what would happen next. I found this book so intriguing and came away with an interesting perspective on the issue of modern-day polygamy.
From the list:

The best novels about escaping polygamist cults

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Book cover of The Calling

The Calling

By Cathryn Clinton

Why this book?

In 1962 South Carolina, it is not acceptable for a girl to declare she has been called to preach. Especially at the young age of twelve. But Esta Lea Ridley knows she is called to the Lord and she says so. She seems to have the gift of healing too. Some who support her have their own selfish motives. In the end,  we and Esta Lea must figure out what her calling means. This book handles serious matters with a light touch.

From the list:

The best coming-of-age books for almost any age

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Book cover of Call Me by Your Name

Call Me by Your Name

By André Aciman

Why this book?

This winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Fiction is one of the greatest love stories I have read – and also seen, since it was made into an equally compelling movie. Oliver arrives on the Italian Riviera to spend the summer assisting Professor Perlman on his academic research. He lives with the Perlman family and soon becomes close friends with their adolescent son, Elio. Their friendship evolves into a love affair that tests their sexuality as they move closer to total intimacy. It’s a story that lingers. I still get emotional thinking about it.

From the list:

The best contemporary gay novels set on the Mediterranean

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Book cover of Assembly

Assembly

By Natasha Brown

Why this book?

This book is slim as a Hanzo knife and its sentences cut just as precisely.

It comes in at a scant 72-page read, so those of us trying to fit in a great read between all our other obligations should take a look at this scathing look at the microaggressions endured in a male-dominated corporate environment.  

This book gets into the mind of a Black British woman; overqualified, impeccably educated, and yet still somehow made to feel inadequate through multiple tiny attacks on her character and her competence. Her white, well-to-do fiancé wants to marry her, and this marriage could…

From the list:

The best books about people trying to keep their shit together

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Book cover of Trust Exercise

Trust Exercise

By Susan Choi

Why this book?

Full disclosure: we are both theatre kids, so we appreciated this look at an incestuous and often toxic high school drama department. While much of it is set in high school, Trust Exercise is not a YA novel. It’s told from the perspectives of three different characters who view the events (and each other) very differently, and who force the reader to question what’s real. It’s a beautiful, dark, onion with a lot of layers and a lot of humor. And a pretty smart look at the trauma caused by problematic relationships.
From the list:

The best books with strong feminist perspectives, coming-of-age themes, and— please god— humor

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Book cover of The Wendy Project

The Wendy Project

By Melissa Jane Osborne, Veronica Fish

Why this book?

Although shorter than the other books on my list, I think the story and art is none the less impactful. The Wendy Project deals with grief, especially grief in younger readers with a gentle understanding. I loved the unique approach to the whole book as well. The book is the journal of the main character Wendy, who receives it and starts to draw in it during the events of the story. I found The Wendy Project in my hands at a time when I was struggling to acknowledge my own grief, and it certainly nudged me to face it.  

From the list:

The best books to help process big emotions

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Book cover of You'll Grow Out of It

You'll Grow Out of It

By Jessi Klein

Why this book?

Comedian Jessi Klein explores the nexus of American femininity and female masculinity in this hilarious memoir. I particularly love her pithy statements on how commercial culture sells a somewhat toxic form of femininity that can make even the most female-identified person reconsider their gender. She cuts to the heart of the tensions of growing up in a culture that places gender on a spectrum but continues to market it as an extreme binary.

From the list:

The best books on tomboys by a historian of tomboys

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Book cover of The House on Mango Street

The House on Mango Street

By Sandra Cisneros

Why this book?

A celebrated modern classic, The House on Mango Street unfolds in a series of intimate vignettes told to us by Esperanza, a young girl growing up amid the color and chaos of her Latinx Chicago neighborhood, with all its striking loves and pains. Esperanza brings the reader into the heart of her family, and into her personal dreams that strive to live in a place where so many dreams are crushed. Mango Street is an intimate story infused with love, humor, sadness, and hope.

From the list:

The best coming-of-age stories by diverse women

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Book cover of Boy Swallows Universe

Boy Swallows Universe

By Trent Dalton

Why this book?

Equal parts quirky, literary, humorous, and touching, Dalton’s debut novel won him a record four Australian Book Industry Awards in 2019, and it’s not hard to see why. Boy Swallows Universe follows the ups and downs of teen protagonist Eli’s descent into a world of drug-lords and prison barons, all while caring for his messed-up parents and mute brother and seeing the world in a uniquely beautiful way. Ex-journalist Dalton’s prose will sometimes take your breath away in this modern classic about life in the far-outer suburbs of Brisbane, Australia, where a ‘normal’ life seems simultaneously too far away and…

From the list:

The best books for understanding the Australian spirit

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Book cover of Stand Up and Sing!: Pete Seeger, Folk Music, and the Path to Justice

Stand Up and Sing!: Pete Seeger, Folk Music, and the Path to Justice

By Susanna Reich, Adam Gustavson

Why this book?

Susanna is an award-winning writer of many picture book bios, but I have a special fondness for this one about Pete Seeger, a standout musician, activist, and human being. Adam Gustavson's marvelous acrylic paintings are a perfect backdrop for a beautifully-written text about a man who believed in the power of Music, and who dedicated his life to the cause of civil and social equality for all Americans. 

From the list:

The best picture books that sing!

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Book cover of You May Plow Here: The Narrative of Sara Brooks

You May Plow Here: The Narrative of Sara Brooks

By Sara Brooks

Why this book?

Sara Brooks was one of seventeen children raised by landowning African American farmers in Alabama. Hers is a lively and evocative account of growing up on the land in a loving family and a harsh coming of age at the hands of an abusive man. Like many southern black women of the era, Brooks is able to escape the bleak conditions of her life by moving first to Mobile and then to Cleveland where she worked as a domestic, eventually acquiring her own home and reuniting with the children she had been forced to leave behind. Hers is a hopeful…

From the list:

The best books for first-person accounts of life in the twentieth century South

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Book cover of Into the Labyrinth: Mage Errant Book 1

Into the Labyrinth: Mage Errant Book 1

By John Bierce

Why this book?

Into the Labyrinth by John Bierce is another academy-fantasy tale where the main character, Hugh, studies magic alongside others. This is a great story for emotional development and plot twists! At first, things seem like they don’t add up, but by the end, you get a satisfying sense of “ah-ha!” as most of your questions are answered (not all, though!).

This is a great coming-of-age story where Hugh finds great mentors, deals with his first love, and struggles with magic where others excel. It’s a great entry point for younger readers, too. Just well worth the read.

From the list:

The best progression fantasy books

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Book cover of Hush

Hush

By Jacqueline Woodson

Why this book?

Evie Thomas and her family are forced to move away from her childhood home, leaving behind family and friends to protect her father from his fellow officers. Evie has to get used to a new name, life without her older sister, and most importantly, life with her father, whose deep depression has transformed him from a lively, protector to a sad man who sits by the window, gazing at nothing. Tackling depression using an African American protagonist, Woodson has written a moving coming of age novel that shines the light on what it means to live with someone suffering from…

From the list:

The best YA books that shed a light on mental illness

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Book cover of On

On

By Adam Roberts

Why this book?

This is another break from AI, and it’s another bizarre world. Why do computer scientists like this kind of thing? I think it’s because we invent mind-bending mathematical worlds in which our algorithms live – we like to explore the strange and weird. When reading this book, at first you wonder if this is science fiction at all – the story seems fantastical. But check out the Appendix and there’s the scientific explanation, complete with equations for the weird laws of physics. Now, this is a proper hard science fiction book… somehow disguised almost as a fairy tale. A lovely…

From the list:

The best books on artificial intelligence that are not full of hype and nonsense

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Book cover of The Girl Next Door

The Girl Next Door

By Jack Ketchum

Why this book?

Reading this book was one of the most intense experiences of my life and I will never forget reading it. Based on a true story of the extreme abuse of a young girl by an evil aunt and some neighborhood kids, this book makes you feel like you were actually present at the crime. While most books I read are tame in comparison, this book is truly and uniquely disturbing and deserving of its reputation as a top-notch horror novel.

From the list:

The best extreme horror books

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To All the Boys I've Loved Before

By Jenny Han

Why this book?

There has been lots of hype around this book series and for a reason! Jenny Han is super talented and like so many readers out there I was charmed by Lara Jean’s story, especially since I had trouble openly admitting my own crushes in high school! I adored the storyline, the tight bond between the three sisters, and must admit to having watched the Netflix film a few too many times too.

From the list:

The best YA books about finding your way through school

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Amy and Isabelle

By Elizabeth Strout

Why this book?

Elizabeth Strout’s debut novel is a dual coming-of-age novel, at least in my view. Single mother Isabelle and her sixteen-year-old daughter Amy live in the small, gossipy New England mill town of Shirley Falls. It’s the late ‘60s, and Isabelle is determined to raise her daughter right and live a proper life. But Amy falls in love with the wrong guy. As teenage Amy rebels against Isabelle’s strictures, and as Isabelle tries to ferret out what Amy’s been up to, they move through a rough summer, and both are changed as they begin to understand themselves, and one another, differently.…

From the list:

The best midlife (yes, midlife!) coming-of-age novels

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Book cover of The Weight of This World

The Weight of This World

By David Joy

Why this book?

The Weight of this World is one of my absolute favorite additions to southern literature. I enjoyed this book, and honestly all of David Joy’s books, because it is crafted in a way to show darkness while at the same time showing glimmers of hope within the characters. This novel is real, raw, and a wonderful read that I would recommend to anyone who is looking to read a book that you can’t put down because of the action, the moments of self-discovery, and the depiction of the roughness within the world.

From the list:

The best coming-of-age novels that capture the nature of growth

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Book cover of The Age of Miracles

The Age of Miracles

By Karen Thompson Walker

Why 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. 

From the list:

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

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Late to the Party

By Kelly Quindlen

Why this book?

A contemporary YA novel, this book will still appeal to all the adults who can remember what it was like trying to figure out who you were as a teenager, how your friends fit into your life, and what it means to shake things up but still maintain who you are at your core. Main character, Codi Teller, is lucky to have two very close friends by her side through it all, but she develops an additional, unexpected friendship with cool kid, Ricky, when she stumbles upon him kissing another boy at a party. Ricky brings Codi into his world…

From the list:

The best books celebrating strong friendships

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Book cover of Autoboyography

Autoboyography

By Christina Lauren

Why this book?

Coming out once is difficult, but going back into the closet is a unique sort of challenge. Tanner and Sebastian fall in love when neither of them are exactly ready for it, and their conflicting backgrounds make it difficult for them to reach a happy medium. No spoilers, but this book presented the pain of coming out – or not better than any other I’ve read.

From the list:

The best books about coming out, as chosen by someone who's bad at it

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Book cover of The Vast Fields of Ordinary

The Vast Fields of Ordinary

By Nick Burd

Why this book?

One of my favourite YA novels ever! The narration in this book truly comes alive. Reading it, the narrator Dade just popped right out of the page and into my inner reading voice. He was so vibrant and full of personality, and while his misadventures were very unlike my own experiences, I still felt a connection to him. I was hooked from beginning to end! This book also inspired me to get back into writing my own novel, so it has a really special place in my heart.

From the list:

The best coming of age books to make you feel seventeen again

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Book cover of Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?

Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?

By Lorrie Moore

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.

From the list:

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

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Priestdaddy: A Memoir

By Patricia Lockwood

Why this book?

Patricia Lockwood’s memoir about growing up as the daughter of a married Catholic priest contains some of the best comic lines I’ve ever read. I still quote it regularly. When Lockwood and her husband move back in with her parents following a medical situation, two improbable things ensue at once: piercing reflections on a religious upbringing in a deeply patriarchal household, and family portraiture rendered in slapstick-funny, laugh-out-loud scenes. Lockwood approaches the world of her parents, and of her childhood, with such a keen perception of every absurdity, no matter how passing or small. Nothing escapes her vision. I want…

From the list:

The best books that find the funny in an unjust world

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Book cover of The Wednesday Wars

The Wednesday Wars

By Gary D. Schmidt

Why this book?

Shakespeare, cream puffs, escaped rats, cross-country track, soggy camping trips, family strife, and the historic events of the late 1960s are expertly woven into a boy-finds-his-inner-hero tale as Holling Hoodhood (yes, that’s his name) navigates the tribulations of seventh grade at his Long Island school. Another Newbery honoree, this clever story is filled with sly wit and tons of heart; it draws you in and won’t let go. For my money, Gary Schmidt is the Bard of adolescent boyhood. Once you’re a fan (and you will be after reading this), check out his other superb chronicles of impending adulthood: Lizzie…

From the list:

The best funny middle-grade books with a boy who discovers his inner hero

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Book cover of Skating Over Thin Ice

Skating Over Thin Ice

By Jean Mills

Why this book?

This is such a beautifully written book that combines art and sport, two of my passions. Imogene is a piano prodigy and there wasn’t one moment in the book where I didn’t root for her. The teen love story between her and the suspended hockey player is so believable and not like typical teen romance novels. I liked that Mills didn’t sugarcoat the work that goes into being successful at something. The book was real and honest which made the ending completely realistic. 

From the list:

The best books about determination and perseverance

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Book cover of Fever Pitch

Fever Pitch

By Nick Hornby

Why this book?

There has to be a football book in the list and it was a toss-up between this and the other This Sporting Life (1960), David Storey’s magnificent novel about northern rugby league. But Hornby edges it because he is writing about being a fan and god knows being a fan gets little enough attention in sport writing. Admittedly, it is about Arsenal but I’m just going to have to live with that because Highbury was a lovely ground and Hornby is smart enough to know that sport is about everything in life but money.

From the list:

The best books on sport history from someone who is mad for history

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Book cover of The Takeaway Men

The Takeaway Men

By Meryl Ain

Why this book?

Takeaway Men is a novel that proves once again that you can never forget. Aron and Judy Lubinski and their twin daughters, Bronka and Johanna, leave a Displaced Person Camp in Poland and immigrate to America, hoping to build a new life and escape the horrors of the Holocaust behind them. Through the kindness of Izzy, a cousin that immigrated earlier to America, they settle in Izzy and his wife, Faye's home in Queens, NY. In their neighborhood, we meet other immigrants, survivors, all working hard to build a better life for themselves and their children. Each of the other…

From the list:

The best novels on post-Holocaust coming of age fiction

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Book cover of True North: A Memoir

True North: A Memoir

By Jill Ker Conway

Why this book?

Conway’s journey from a childhood spent on a remote Australian sheep ranch to the first female president of Smith College is remarkable and searingly honest written memoir is more than a chronicle of success. With humor and insight, Conway renders the loneliness of being the only woman in the room, the costs (in her case, early struggles with depression and substance abuse), and the sources of support and resilience that kept her going. So many leadership books identify desirable leadership traits without describing the actual experiences that go into developing as a leader. This beautifully written book vividly shows what…

From the list:

The best books about actually being a leader

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Book cover of MacDoodle St.

MacDoodle St.

By Mark Alan Stamaty

Why this book?

My curveball choice. In the late 1970s, Stamaty drew a brilliant, phantasmagoric, visually dense comic strip for The Village Voice that captured the chaos, charm, and entropic scuzziness of Manhattan in that era. His protagonist, a bearded nerd named Malcolm Frazzle, travels on a very funny Joseph Campbell-like hero’s journey that involves a talking cow, the Zen of dishwashing, and overpacked subway cars. I’ve spent the last 40 years revisiting this compendium of Stamaty’s strips, whose every page is a loony, trippy world to fall into.

From the list:

The best books about coming of age in New York City

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Book cover of Little Women

Little Women

By Louisa May Alcott

Why this book?

This is the story of four sisters coming of age, but readers know that it’s really a book about Jo—the tomboy at its center. Jo March launched the tomboy as a quintessentially American girl icon, and Little Women launched the juvenile publishing market for girls. It remains one of the most beloved books in the world. I read it every year and always come away with something different.

From the list:

The best books on tomboys by a historian of tomboys

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Book cover of To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird

By Harper Lee

Why this book?

To Kill a Mockingbird set the stage for all legal thrillers that followed, and it is still arguably the best of the bunch. Court is an inherently rich vein of drama and conflict to mine for a novel, but the suspense is sometimes diluted by page after page of tedious courtroom minutiae. To Kill a Mockingbird avoids this pitfall. While the story includes events that unfold in a courtroom, it is, at heart, a coming-of-age story and morality tale about confronting entrenched injustice at great personal cost. There’s a purity of character and purpose here that touches a chord deep…

From the list:

The best thrillers about underdogs overcoming impossible odds

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Book cover of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

By J.K. Rowling

Why this book?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m not sure you can call yourself a reader unless you’ve read the Harry Potter series. The world! The characters! The story! Oh, I loved it all! I ate up every bit—over and over. For me, like The Lord of the Rings, a world without Harry Potter is no world at all. It’s an honor to have read the books.

From the list:

The best modern classic novels that you can't put down

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Book cover of The Spirit of Things: A Gripping Young Adult Coming of Age Fantasy (Beyond Horizon)

The Spirit of Things: A Gripping Young Adult Coming of Age Fantasy (Beyond Horizon)

By Ben McQueeney

Why this book?

I won’t lie, I am an audiobook fan because I can listen to them as I work. The story in The Spirit of Things, combined with the excellence of Nigel Peever as a narrator, is seriously fantastic! A Human boy raised among elves wants to find his way to finally being accepted. After having a vision, Fulco realizes what just might be his answer – he needs to find a way to possess magic.

From the list:

The best books of action driven young adult fiction

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Book cover of Discover Your Dharma: A Vedic Guide to Finding Your Purpose

Discover Your Dharma: A Vedic Guide to Finding Your Purpose

By Sahara Rose Ketabi

Why this book?

This book is a powerful companion to support you in shifts within your personal, business and spiritual life. As many are waking up each day to a very deep yearning to discover who they truly are and what their true purpose in life is, Discover Your Dharma will guide you in unearthing these most potent truths, all while delivering said guidance in a down-to-earth, relatable and digestible way. This book will empower you to take aligned action to finally live the life your soul is seeking.

From the list:

The best books to support your spiritual awakening

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Book cover of Crackpots

Crackpots

By Sara Pritchard

Why this book?

I laughed out loud reading Sara Pritchard’s Crackpots, the story of spunky Ruby Reese and her complicated coming-of-age. This book was a huge influence on the structure of my own novel. Pritchard plays with chronology and point of view in a way that made me think, wow, I didn’t know you could do that. And then, ooh, I want to do that. Lyrical, detailed, and hilarious, this ranks as one of my all-time faves.

From the list:

The best books featuring quirky, funny female protagonists

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Book cover of A Little Princess

A Little Princess

By Frances Hodgson Burnett

Why this book?

I read A Little Princess when I was only ten, with no idea that it was a classic. All I knew was that I totally identified with Sarah, the protagonist, as she was buffeted by the vicissitudes of fortune. The issues of class portrayed in this book were already on my young mind, since I grew up in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the Bronx but also spent a lot of time in the wealthy environs of Manhattan and the contrast was immense. I was impressed by Sarah’s resilience and her ability to empathize with others in spite of…

From the list:

The best coming of age novels with a cutting edge

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Book cover of With

With

By Donald Harington

Why this book?

Harington was one of the great unheralded—or at least under heralded—novelists of the last fifty years, bursting with stories and whole populations of flawlessly captured human voices, and With was one of his highest achievements. It follows the fortunes of a kidnapped girl in the Arkansas Ozarks who befriends the woods’ menagerie of animals, as well as the ghost (or, as Harington would style it, the “in-habit”) of a twelve-year-old boy whose body did not die but moved away and abandoned him. Recommended if you like your ghosts warm-hearted and aching for home.

From the list:

The best novels about ghosts

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Book cover of Childhood, Boyhood, Youth

Childhood, Boyhood, Youth

By Leo Tolstoy

Why this book?

When I was in college, I told my writing teacher I wanted to write about my father’s death, which had happened when I was very little. My teacher, a famous writer, lost his father when he was very little too, but he told me he never wrote about it directly. I looked for examples in literature of someone writing autobiographically about a loss in early childhood and I only ever found one: Tolstoy’s debut novel, Childhood, Boyhood, Youth. Tolstoy’s mother died when he was 2, his father when he was 8, and he writes about it with unparalleled power…

From the list:

The best coming-of-age novels that feature loss

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Book cover of Ursa

Ursa

By Tina Shaw

Why this book?

Described as an ‘alternate history coming-of-age YA’, Ursa packs a real punch. Set in a world deeply divided into those who can live freely and those denied all human rights, it shows what happens when the desire for freedom in those oppressed ignites into a revolution. Brutal and unflinching, with important things to say about fascism and xenophobia, you won’t be able to stop reading!

From the list:

The best speculative young adult fiction from Aotearoa New Zealand that will challenge you to think harder

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Book cover of Awaken Online: Unity

Awaken Online: Unity

By Travis Bagwell

Why this book?

A great story about the underdog bullied kid who rises up to become a necromancer builds up an undead nation, and rises up to contend with powerful forces against all odds. Great storytelling and compelling character, it’s a pleasure watching Jason grows up from a timid teen to a confident leader – and by using the dark arts. It's a great coming-of-age \ underdog reach the top kind of story except the underdog does it by embracing necromancy and his tools are the undead soul-wilting powers yet you can't stop rooting for him to win.

From the list:

The most engaging LitRPG books

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Book cover of Woman at Point Zero

Woman at Point Zero

By Nawal El Saadawi, Sherif Hetata

Why this book?

A feministic milestone, a must-read for all activists and people engaged in the battle for a better society. It tells the story of Firdaus, a young woman coming of age in the male-dominant Egyptian society, who never eyes an escape from the hardships and trials imposed on her by senseless men. It’s such a strong description of women as an underclass, as slaves in a male dominant society, that it changes your basic outlook on life. “Every single man I did get to know filled me with but one desire: to lift my hand and bring it smashing down on…

From the list:

The best me-against-the-world books

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Book cover of Jacob Have I Loved

Jacob Have I Loved

By Katherine Paterson

Why this book?

This book is for any girl, like me, who grew up with a sister she envied. I loved seeing Louise come to terms with her own worth and her own beauty. I felt that I was fighting her battles with her. In the end we both made peace with our sisters and gained confidence in our own merits.

From the list:

The best coming-of-age books for almost any age

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Book cover of Fangirl

Fangirl

By Rainbow Rowell

Why this book?

First of all, any author by the name of Rainbow is already fantastic in my book. The story is engaging and well-written. Cath is the author of a ridiculously popular fanfiction and, on top of that, she’s heading to college. This book is popular for a reason, as the author depicts a strong main character who not only struggles to navigate the choppy waters of college life, but family life too by worrying about her dad. I sure love a main character with a big heart.

From the list:

The best YA books about finding your way through school

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Book cover of Virgins

Virgins

By Caryl Rivers

Why this book?

Gah! Virgins! I should mention that this book was actually written in the 80s and flashes back to the 50s, but in the spirit of this list (and simply because I flipping love it), I’m including it here. Peggy and Sean are two good little Catholic teens navigating their senior year of high school. Sean is slated to enter the priesthood upon graduation, testing the limits of the pair’s carnal restraint in the final days of their relationship. I don’t think there’s a book in the world that has influenced my storytelling more than this one. It’s hot, hilarious,…

From the list:

The best romance books that flash back to the 1980s and 90s

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Dark Harvest

By Norman Partridge

Why this book?

Every Halloween, a nightmare with a butcher knife named the October Boy rises from the cornfields to hunt the teenage boys of a small Midwestern town. Partridge won the Bram Stoker Award for this short novel and it’s easy to see why; his words conjure images that stick with us long after we’ve put the book down and pulled the blankets up over our heads. Chilling, tense, and fast-paced, this story takes us on a murderous thrill ride through a community that gives new meaning to the term “dead-end town.” At the same time, it’s also an artful coming-of-age story…

From the list:

The best horror books to read on Halloween

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Book cover of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

By James Joyce

Why this book?

It gives me goosebumps to remember reading this book, caressing each wondrous page before turning to the next. The innocent anguish and confusion of Joyce’s language captured Stephan Dedalus's tormented yet profoundly beautiful childhood so perfectly that it made me feel like the book had been written especially for me! Many passages were pure poetry, yet so earthy I could smell the streets and playgrounds of Dublin. This was unlike any of the novels we were reading in school and I made sure to lend it to as many friends as I could – I was that sure they’d love…

From the list:

The best coming of age novels with a cutting edge

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Book cover of After: Volume 1

After: Volume 1

By Anna Todd

Why this book?

Now, for this one, I can’t promise the death aspect, but I can promise the suspense and romance makes up for it ten-fold. Hardin Scott is your typical bad boy. If you haven’t noticed by now, I love a good old-fashioned bad boy gone good for the right girl. This one delivers in the best way too. The gut-wrenching twist, the way you desperately root for Tessa and Hardin, and the emotion behind it. I just love it all. Plus, it’s incredibly relatable with a coming-of-age aspect thrown in.

From the list:

The best suspense books with a romance to die for – literally...someone is going to die

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Book cover of Land of Hills and Valleys

Land of Hills and Valleys

By Elisabeth Grace Foley

Why this book?

A slightly more modern take, this book is set in the 1930s, in the perspective of a girl who inherits an ailing Wyoming ranch and she falls in love with the land and the people who inhabit it. What I loved about this one was the discovery of the land and the lifestyle through the eyes of the main character. Throw in a mystery and a lovely romance and you'll be breathless by the end. 

From the list:

The best books that capture the poignant beauty of the American West

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Book cover of Winterbirth

Winterbirth

By Brian Ruckley

Why this book?

Ruckley manages to strike a rare balance between high fantasy prose and Grimdark’s dirt-under-the-nails realism, and combines it all with thoughtful character development and an oftentimes sombre tone. On the one hand it’s about a boy’s coming of age journey and the tragedy of loss, and on the other a bitter and ultimately futile conflict of a people riven by the dogma of an emergent religion. There are visceral and superbly paced clashes between these opposing sides, which are both blinded by the all-encompassing madness of a magic user who is rapidly losing control of his own power. The fact…

From the list:

The best fights in fantasy: five authors who have mastered the art of writing fight scenes

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