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What are some contemporary coming of age novels?
April 14, 2012 12:28 AM   Subscribe

What are some contemporary coming of age novels? I am in a reading group and our current theme is "the adolescent experience." But most novels we have read thus far speak to the experiences of past generations. What are some novels, written for adult audiences, that might describe the experience of a modern adolescent in our society?

We are hoping to find a book that would be considered "literature" (as opposed to a pop novel page turner - I know its murky) and is written generally for adults (no twilight or harry potter, etc.). Finding something that might be considered a future classic is a plus. Thanks!
posted by slopepheasant to Media & Arts (30 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
 
Prep: "A self-conscious outsider navigates the choppy waters of adolescence and a posh boarding school's social politics in Sittenfeld's A-grade coming-of-age debut." (Publishers Weekly)
posted by salvia at 1:11 AM on April 14, 2012 [6 favorites]


The Center of the World and at Goodreads
posted by travelwithcats at 1:56 AM on April 14, 2012


Push is the novel the film Precious is based on. It's about a teen girl dealing with sexual abuse and the welfare system. The sequel follows her son.
posted by spunweb at 1:57 AM on April 14, 2012


Seconding Prep, but it's about boarding school (the main char. is a bit of a socioeconomic outsider, at least, but still)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 3:20 AM on April 14, 2012


I may be out of line in recommending this because it was published as YA, but it was written for adults and only published as YA because YA was the hot category: Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You.
posted by Jeanne at 3:38 AM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Basic Eight by Daniel Handler? It's about a group of high school
students.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 4:08 AM on April 14, 2012


Thirding Prep. Don't let the boarding school aspect drive you away; it would be a terrific choice.

The other book that comes to mind is The Art of Fielding, which is a coming of age novel centered around a college baseball player and which was named one of the NY Times' 5 Best Fiction Books of 2011 (as Prep was in 2005).
posted by The Michael The at 4:49 AM on April 14, 2012


I agree that Prep is a great choice. But keep in mind that publishing categories have shifted since previous generations. YA is pretty lucrative, and novels once published for adults are now more likely to be published for teen. Hannah Moskowitz is one contemporary YA author who might be interesting to you. Gone, Gone, Gone is her most recent novel, and Invincible Summer is pretty solid, too. I also very much enjoyed Like Mandarin by metafilter's own Kirsten Hubbard. And you should also probably (almost undoubtedly) be looking at John Green. The Fault in Our Stars is plenty literary.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:31 AM on April 14, 2012


The Perks of Being A Wallflower is good.
posted by shortyJBot at 5:32 AM on April 14, 2012 [9 favorites]


How about Winter's Bone? The protagonist, 16 year old Dolly, must find her father who's on the run from the law for running a Meth lab.
posted by hazyjane at 5:36 AM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


I really wish I read Kafka on the Shore when I was the protagonist's age instead of just out of college.
posted by supercres at 6:37 AM on April 14, 2012


The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Definitely an adolescent experience, but probably totally unlike anyone in your book club's adolescence. Ignore the YA marketing--this is plenty literary.

Seconding The Fault In Our Stars. Also putting out an anti-recommendation for the much-favorited Perks of Being a Wallflower; I adored it in high school but it's incredibly melodramatic to reread as an adult.
posted by ActionPopulated at 7:01 AM on April 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta (1999) is one that comes to my mind.
It's not literary (quite easy to read) but has some good adolescent themes such as identity, family and relationships with boys - seen through the eyes of 17 year old Italian-Australian protagonist Josephine Alibrandi. It won some awards and was made into a movie more recently.
posted by EatMyHat at 7:15 AM on April 14, 2012


She's Come Undone.
posted by Sassyfras at 7:23 AM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


In Zanesville
posted by sulaine at 7:40 AM on April 14, 2012


Where The Heart Is by Billie Letts
posted by humph at 7:40 AM on April 14, 2012


someone just reminded me of Skippy Dies. It's long, but I liked it a lot. Booker Prize longlist, so plenty literary.
posted by ansate at 8:36 AM on April 14, 2012


Anthropology of an American Girl by Hilary Thayer Hamann

Seconding The Basic Eight.
posted by book 'em dano at 8:37 AM on April 14, 2012


Rule of the Bone by Russell Banks is one of my favorite novels of all time.
posted by theuninvitedguest at 8:37 AM on April 14, 2012


The Disreptuable History of Frankie Landau-Banks was good and appears to be aimed at the 18 and up crowd. (I found it through the Morning News' Tournament of Books, if that gives it any literary cred)
posted by jabes at 8:42 AM on April 14, 2012


The Beginners by Rebecca Wolff

This came out last year and I loved it.
posted by book 'em dano at 8:53 AM on April 14, 2012


i suppose you could argue that I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe could fall into this category. Also maybe Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl, which I expected to dislike but ended up really enjoying.
posted by kerning at 8:55 AM on April 14, 2012


The Realm of Possibility by David Levithan. While this book may consist of several monologues from different characters and is written in a free-verse poetry style, I'd highly recommend this book. It's an underrated coming of age novel that is a fast-turner, but uses each character's narrative as a means to explore "the adolescent experience" in a meaningful way.
posted by livinglearning at 8:58 AM on April 14, 2012


This year's Tournament of Books had several coming of age stores: The Art of Fielding, as mentioned above, Salvage the Bones, and Swamplandia! (but Swamplandia! I think is not exactly a modern experience). I haven't read any of them, but there are reviews at the TOB that you could check out to see if you might be interested. Be wary of the posts from later in the Tournament, they tend to get spoilery.

Also, and while these are all recently published, some of them are set in various parts of the 20th century:
David Mitchell's Black Swan Green,
Monique Truong's Bitter in the Mouth,
Dai Sijie's Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress,
Jonathan Lethem's The Fortress of Solitude,
and in a really challenging way, Sunjeev Sahotra's Ours Are the Streets.

Your question also made me think of Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, but that isn't a modern adolescent experience; it's a hypothetical future one. Nevertheless, you may be interested. If I'm mentioning a future classic at all here, that's it.
posted by snorkmaiden at 9:26 AM on April 14, 2012 [1 favorite]


The Crow Road?

There's some of the usual Banks weirdness -- exploding grandmothers, a mystery involving a long-missing uncle -- but there's none of the greasy nihilistic awfulness of some of his stuff and really all that stuff is just a container for the story of Prentice growing up.

Don't know if it matters: set in Scotland. Is that "our society" to you and yours?
Also don't know if it matters: a decent filmed version is also available.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:47 AM on April 14, 2012


Slam by Nick Hornby.
posted by 4ster at 7:43 PM on April 14, 2012


Lullabies For Little Criminals by Heather O'Neill and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon could certainly be considered coming-of-age novels (the main character in the latter novel, though it is never stated outright, has Asperger's, which might make his POV a little different than you're looking for, but it's a lovely book). Both of them have been generally well-received and I think they have staying power.
posted by ilana at 9:35 PM on April 14, 2012


Oh man - hands down, Ghost World. It is technically early 90's-era, but it reflected my adolescence better than anything else I've ever read.
posted by sidi hamet at 9:08 AM on April 15, 2012


I really liked Juno and Juliet by Julian Gough, though it's about university students. I think it came out in about 2003.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith covers this territory a little. And two books which cover this territory but from the perspective of late adolescence are Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty and Linda Grant's The Clothes on Their Backs - both written recently but set in the 1980s.
posted by mippy at 2:07 PM on April 15, 2012


Just so you know--Prep is also set in the late 1980s; I don't know if that's contemporary enough for you.
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:30 AM on April 16, 2012


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