Modern coming of age novels
I hate Catcher in the Rye: a novel about a privileged Upper East Side kid who doesn’t like exclusive prep schools and has a fun day at various hotels and ice skating rinks while figuring his relatively easy life out.
If you are the son of a billionaire hedge fund manager, then perhaps Catcher in the Rye is the perfect coming of age novel for you.
In the meantime, there are many other diverse, beautiful books that capture the horror, tragedy, and transformation that so often accompanies the coming of age. Coming of age novels don’t just describe childhood; they help us figure out the adult lives we suddenly wake up and find ourselves in.
The stories of how the authors of these books get through these childhoods make for great, largely autobiographical novels that are so often ignored by the educators and other literary worshipers who idolize Salinger. This is not so much a criticism of Salinger as a question of “why?”
The ages 12-20 are frightening. Frightening for the parent who has to pray her child survives the torment. Scary for the child who doesn’t know what is going to come next and, in 99% of the cases, has no role model to follow.
The writers who “come of age” and live to tell the tale and do it better than anyone else are worth reading — not only for those who want to reminisce on how lonely their childhoods were, but also to deal with the fact that the loneliness doesn’t go away just because we become adults.
There’s no guidebook for life. But we feel relief when an artist touches our heart and whispers comfort directly inside of us. Here are a few coming-of-age books that might just speak to you more than Salinger’s.
The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls
“I WAS ON FIRE. It’s my earliest memory.” You’d think that line would start the novel, but it’s the beginning of the second chapter. And rather than the fire being so unusual in Jeanette Walls’ life, it’s just the beginning of a string of nightmarish events that her parents continue to categorize as normal as they move from town to town in worse and worse conditions.
As I mentioned, that’s the second chapter. The first chapter begins decades later with Walls in New York City, finding her mother rummaging through dumpsters, to Walls’ shame. Those two chapters set two disparate tones, which must come together for Walls and the reader before the memoir ends.