Growing Up is Hard to Do

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Growing Up is Hard to Do

A handful of coming-of-age novels

Vivid, urgent, and often aching -- growing up is anything but easy. And even though we all do it, everyone experiences the process differently.

Such complexity and variability, as well as the way the experience can loom large even after adulthood is reached, makes growing up a rich topic to explore in fiction.

Here, a few personal favorites -- in large part drawn from literary fiction -- that only begin to hint at the wealth of powerful coming of age novels out there.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Sharp and self-obsessed, vulnerable and anxious, Holden Caulfield is the consummate adolescent, and his struggle to fend off the loss of innocence that he sees as tied to growing up makes this perhaps the quintessential coming of age novel. 

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon
Art Bechstein graduates college with an aimless summer before him, but new friendships and romantic developments soon intervene. A novel that captures in smart, gorgeous prose how our relationships with others can transform and define us.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
A coming-of-age novel as modern epic, Eugenides' novel follows Cal -- raised Calliope -- Stephanides, who, in the process of telling his own story of growing up intersex, also explores the eventful youths and impactful choices of his parents and grandparents. 

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
At Spirit-in-the-Woods summer camp, Julie Jacobson meets Ethan, Ash, Goodman, and Jonah, who name her Jules and welcome her into their tight-knit group. An authentic look at the emotional challenges and rewards of enduring friendship, The Interestings also thoughtfully explores ideas of art, talent, ambition, and privilege.

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
A fantasy novel that overcomes any resistance to the genre through its engaging, authentic characterization and immediately intriguing plot. The specific challenges that Lyra Belacqua faces may be uncommon but her emotional journey -- here and in the subsequent two books in the consistently outstanding His Dark Materials trilogy -- is a familiar one, full of thrilling triumphs, complicated longings, and painful losses.