Anyone who’s seen Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade is all too familiar with its uncanny ability to recall all the fear, embarrassment, confusion, and hordes of other emotions from a time in life I think we’d all choose to conveniently forget. But Eighth Grade also reminds us that adolescence makes us who we are—somewhere in between the growing pains, we learn what we want to stand for and who we want to be. And for better or worse, the experiences we have during our teens often go down as the most vivid and formative of our lives. All of this is exactly why I love coming-of-age novels. If you, too, love stepping back into the fiery depths of young adulthood, these four novels are perfect choices.
We all have that one friend from our teens who was radically different from us (and maybe a little bit dangerous). The friend who showed us a side of the world we didn’t know existed—and who we’ll never forget, even though they might be absent from our present lives. For 15-year-old Cat, that friend is Marlena—her beautiful, magnetic, and deeply troubled new neighbor. With Marlena, Cat begins to see their dead-end midwestern town with new eyes. But when tragedy strikes, Cat’s memories of her adolescence become forever tainted.
Jamie turns 14 the summer of 1976. That’s the year she gets her first boyfriend, her friends start smoking, and, most embarrassingly, the year her parents throw naked swim parties (as if it wasn’t hard enough to just be a 14-year-old girl). Every teen just wants something to happen in their life, but this all might be more than Jamie bargained for.
Being a teenager feels like the entire world is changing every day. But for Julia, it actually is. One day in her California suburb, she realizes that the rotation of the Earth has suddenly slowed down—and it’s showing no sign of returning to normal. Besides coming to terms with first love, old friends, and the other typical disasters of teenage life, for Julia, gravity is quite literally thrown out of whack. Written in gorgeous, lush prose, THE AGE OF MIRACLES captures the momentous feelings of adolescence in a totally unique way.
“THE AGE OF MIRACLES was so frightening because the apocalypse begins as an annoyance, like a lipstick that has melted. Walker’s greatest device is that the end of the world comes incrementally, almost casually, and each turned page winds the reader just a little more tightly.”
Even though the raucous and hilarious novel I LOVE YOU, BETH COOPER begins on the night of high school graduation, it goes to show that awkwardness—and adventure—doesn’t have to end along with adolescence. In his speech, valedictorian Denis Cooverman announces to his entire graduating class that he’s had a six-year-long crush on pretty and popular cheerleader Beth Cooper. When Beth lets Denis know she thinks his admission is “sweet,” he gets up the courage to invite her to a party at his house that night—which actually turns out to consist soley of Denis himself along with his best friend and fellow social outcast, Rich. That is until Beth shows up and an unforgettable night of hijinks, confessions, and self-realizations ensues.