Coming-of-Age Novels That Rocked My World

shelved under Biography & Memoir

This is a list of Coming-of-Age novels that rocked my world, altered my course and expanded my consciousness. By no means a definitive list — more a personal debt of gratitude to books that set me dreaming with eyes wide open and an insatiable hunger, finally, at last, for... something more. Like some big blowhorn going off, at the end of each of these books I felt the ears of my ears open and heeded a clarion call to action — to save myself.


On the Road

by Jack Kerouac

For me it all started with this one. Although more often cited as the Beat Generations' finest hour than coming-of-age, for me, this book literally shoved me out the door and off into the hinterlands. This book made me value the most passionate of friendships, hunger for experience and be a fearless seeker of all those elusive revelations that I was convinced were just sitting out there waiting to be seized.


The Basketball Diaries

by Jim Carroll

Full disclosure: I knew Jim Carroll, the author, and miss him a lot. He was a great poet, author and musician. My band Divine Weeks wrote a song for him about this book; he then asked us to open for him several times when he came through Los Angeles. This book opened up a new world filled with street rats, hustlers and junkies. It's hilarious and horrifying, tragic and brilliant. A teen junkie's quest for purity while descending into hell. Poignant observations of Cold War paranoia, the counter culture movement, Catholic guilt. A life-changer for me.


Ham on Rye

by Charles Bukowski

Henry Chinaski is a misanthropist anti-hero, a sarcastic loner, disfigured by monstrous acne, impoverished and beaten regularly by a cruel and violent father. Yet for all the heartbreak and failure, we see Henry forming the desire to be a writer and learning that to throw oneself into artistic creation offers a form of release and salvation. "Words weren't dull, words were things that could make your mind hum. If you read them and let yourself feel the magic, you could live without pain, with hope, no matter what happened to you." A book that shakes you to your core.


Juniper Tree Burning

by Goldberry Long

Having been raised by a hippy myself, this story of angry young woman Juniper Tree Burning resonated for me. Hamstrung by the name given by her hippy parents and the derision brought on by her alternative upbringing, she longs to escape, but her love for her younger brother binds her to her family. It's a paradox that haunts her into adulthood where she renames and reinvents herself and tries to assimilate into everyday life. She is strangely underwhelmed by grief over her brother's suicide, and she leaves her husband, and hits the road where she is forced to confront the past she's been running from. Very moving book that stayed with me for a long time.


The Fine Wisdom and Perfect Teachings of the Kings of Rock and Roll: A Memoir

by Mark Edmundson

This is a harrowing, hilarious and inspiring coming-of-age memoir — a journey seeking meaning through rock and roll, sex, drugs, Marxism and finally through teaching. Insightful social critiques and candid self revelations abound. A near perfect memoir and everything you could want in a coming of age story. And a great title!


Bad Haircut: Stories of the Seventies

by Tom Perrotta

This collection of vignettes about growing up in the 70s in a small New Jersey town touches on all the crucial hallmarks of a great coming-of-age story — the awkwardness, the traumatic and bittersweet encounters, the loss of virginity and questions about sexual identity, encounters with racism and musings on mortality as protagonist Buddy stumbles into adulthood. Gorgeous, unsentimental, understated writing. If you grew up in the 70s, reading it is like time travel.


A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

by James Joyce

When I read this in my late teens, I was desperately trying to justify breaking ties with all social, family, and religious constraints to focus entirely on my art. Stephen Dedalus' epiphany on the beach was like someone had been eavesdropping on all my unspoken desires and gave me the template to set out to do just that. This book defined my ideals as an artist and set me inward in self-exile, to transform from mere belief in God to belief in aesthetic beauty.


Rooftops of Tehran

by Mahbod Seraji

From the rooftop of his home, Pasha and his friends talk about life — sharing their dreams, hopes, and fears. There's first loves, first independent stands, betrayals, innocence lost. What sets this coming-of-age novel apart is that it takes place under the harsh reign of the shah in Iran in the 70s. Comparisons to The Kite Runner are inevitable, but I found this book with a greater emotional center and a far greater payoff.



by Ralph Freedman, Joachim Neugroschel, Hermann Hesse

Being raised in a rigid Irish Catholic household, there was only one idea of religion. Lots of fear and self loathing and kind of a "boogie-man mentality" perpetually hovered. It wasn't until I read Siddhartha that I had an idea of what spirituality truly was. An individual quest for a greater sense of knowing, where you are a proactive participant in searching your own destiny.


Angela's Ashes

by Frank McCourt

Growing up in extreme poverty in Limerick, Ireland, Frank McCourt's childhood memoirs are a testament to the very will to survive. And yet, there is no self pity or melancholy. It's classic Irish storytelling, frankly detailing the heartbreaking tales of family death, sickness, hunger, begging and the unforgiving Catholic Church. Somehow Frank finds beauty in Shakespeare, fends off the shame of poverty and not only survives but conquers and escapes.