Here are five remarkable coming-of-age novels to read this holy week.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Before its famous film adaptation, Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief was a #1 New York Times bestseller. The story is set in 1939 during the Nazi regime and follows a young foster girl living outside Munich. Liesel Meminger is left in the care of a couple. While the foster mother is reluctant to take Liesel in, the foster father instantly sparks a connection with the young girl and treats her as her own. With her accordion-playing foster father’s help, Liesel learns to read through the “illegal” books she stole. She shares these books with her neighbors and with the Jewish man hidden in her basement. Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief is one remarkable read, reminiscent of the classic Diary of Anne Frank. This Lent, we recommend readers to check it out.
Playing Hurt by Gerald Nardella
Playing Hurt is a coming-of-age novel set in the 1960s by Gerald Nardella. This 2015 book centers around the lives of senior high school sweethearts Brian and Deanie. For many, they are the perfect couple, and both have a good thing going for them. Brian is a football star in his last year on the team, and Deanie is a cheerleader. Just as the future seems bright for them, things take a few unexpected turns that will change them forever. Brian got injured, and Deanie suddenly became distant after their first night together. Brian became miserable, and Deanie got pregnant after her ex-boyfriend forced himself on her. These curveballs and tragedies left them both scarred and changed forever. The question is, will they heal and find redemption just in time? Playing Hurt by Nardella is not your ordinary teen drama. It reflects the harsh realities of adulthood, life’s challenges, and some wounds that never truly heal.
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Published in 2013, The Goldfinch is a unique, compelling novel by Donna Tartt. The book features a 13-year old boy named Theo Decker. Theo miraculously survives an accident that kills her mother. Theo’s father has abandoned him and is taken in by a wealthy friend’s family. Theo is overwhelmed by his new home on Park Avenue as well as by his schoolmates, and above all, by the loss of his beloved mother. He holds on to a small, unusually mesmerizing painting that takes Theo into the world of the wealthy art community. As he grows older, Theo moves between the drawing rooms of the society’s elite and the dusty labyrinth of an antique store where he works. He is both fascinated and, at the same time, feels not part of that world. The Goldfinch is a coming-of-age story that is built on a narrative of loss, obsession, survival, self-invention, and how the universe schemes our fate.
Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald
This 2014 rivetting novel by Penelope Fitzgerald is a timely read during this lent season. Offshore is set in the Battersea Reach of the Thames. The Reach is where the slightly disreputable, the wayward, and the patent eccentrics lived on houseboats and formed an unlikely community. Here we meet all sorts of peoples, including Maurice, a male prostitute, who by happenstance a receiver of stolen goods. We are also introduced to Richard, a former navy whose boat dominates the Reach. Lastly, there is Nenna. Nenna was abandoned by her husband and left alone to raise two young daughters on the waterfront streets. Witty, at times hilarious, but definitely full of emotions and reflections of the realities of today’s society, Offshore is another remarkable novel by Penelope Fitzgerald.
Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson
Harbor Me is an inspiring coming-of-age, feel-good novel by Jacqueline Woodson. Published in 2018, the book begins with six kids are gathered to meet for a weekly chat all by themselves. These weekly meetings are conducted in a room they soon dub the ARTT Room, also known as “A Room to Talk.” Here, the kids discover it’s safe to talk about what’s bothering them. They begin to open up their personal issues, such as Esteban’s father’s deportation, Haley’s father’s incarceration, and even Amari’s fears of racial profiling and Ashton’s adjustment to his changing family fortunes. During their sessions, the kids find comfort and solace from each other. In the ARTT room, they can freely express the feelings and fears they have hidden from the rest of the world. Harbor Me reminds me of the classic cult film, The Breakfast Club.