Coming-Of-Age Novels Are More Relevant Than Ever Before

Forrest Evans

Often referenced as Bildungsroman in literary criticism, the Young Adult coming-of-age genre truly cultivates examples of expression, identity, and more. Because this genre has been around for so long (since BC!) it’s easily accessible in school and home libraries. 

Notable classics such as Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte established the pillars and initial examples of the coming-of-age genre. Though other classics like Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, or The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison also shaped the genre but are often overshadowed. Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, titles like Ice Sparks, Goosebumps, and The Baby-Sitter’s Club franchise were the bulk of Young Adult literature but as readers matured and developed— so did their reading interests, leaving behind these popular book series. 

Now, those reading Young Adult coming-of-age literature are seeking timelessness and diversity of thought and they’re finding it in reads like Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo—   which follows sisters Camino and Yahaira as they find out about one another when the father they share dies in a plane crash and the 2018 Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. Because of the narratives shared in these stories, readers are able to find cultural elements and viewpoints that historically have not been seen on bookshelves or on best-seller lists. 

For decades, young adults have turned to coming-of-age novels for life experiences, expression, guidance, and more. But thanks to more diverse authorship, these books are even more inclusive than ever before.

The new coming-of-age novel

Thanks to the contribution of more races, cultures, and sexes, both expression itself and gender expression are becoming more fluidly represented in the genre, inspiring more cisgender women to contribute to the community of writers. Queer women like Janet Mock, Ryka Aoki, Nancy Garden, and Anita Cornwell are among many other Young Adult writers also growing a greater audience as readers gravitate towards open narratives from every viewpoint.

Readers are also seeking contemporary literature from authors like Emily Griffen, Alyssa Cole, Sarah Dessen, and other familiar names who are creating their own community of readers by merging the coming-of-age genre with that of ChickLit. Other titles like Susan Choi’s My Education and The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath offer a glimpse into self-actualization, identity, individuality, and greatly contribute to some of the most frequently read in the going genre. 

Millennial readers also contribute to the great increase and demand in Young Adult coming-of-age literature. How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez and Purple Hibiscus: A Novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie are finding their way onto bestselling lists and in book club conversations around the world. The genre is even growing popular in the film industry, as The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor and Beloved by Toni Morrison are classic pieces of literature adapted into pieces of film starring Oprah Winfrey. 

With a broader expansion into many subjects now than in generations ever before, readers are able to find stories that reflect their interests, the communities they’re a part of, and cultural elements historically not seen before. Because of this, readers are able to grow and gain insight into specific journeys and evolutions, no matter what they might be.

What was a coming-of-age novel that greatly impacted you as a young reader? Tweet it to us online at @bookclubdotcom.

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