Top Coming of Age Novels

In a classic coming-of-age story or novel, the character undergoes adventures and/or inner turmoil in his/her growth and development as a human being. Some characters come to grips with the reality of cruelty in the world--with war, violence, death, racism, and hatred--while others deal with family, friends, or community issues.

01
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Great Expectations

Great Expectations
Great Expectations. Oxford University Press

Great Expectations is one of the most famous works by Charles Dickens. Philip Pirrip (Pip) narrates the events of years after the episodes occur. The novel also contains some autobiographical elements. Buy from Amazon »

02
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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Movie Poster
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn Movie Poster. 20th Century Fox/Wikimedia Commons

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is now considered an essential part of American literature. As an indispensable classic, ​Betty Smith's book appears ​on reading lists across the country. It has profoundly influenced readers from all walks of life--young and old alike. The ​New York Public Library even chose the book as one of the "Books of the Century." Buy from Amazon »

03
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Catcher in the Rye

The Catcher in the Rye
The Catcher in the Rye. Little Brown & Co.

First published in 1951, The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger, details 48 hours in the life of Holden Caulfield. The novel is the only novel-length work by J.D. Salinger, and its history has been colorful (and controversial). Buy from Amazon »

04
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To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird
To Kill a Mockingbird. HarperCollins
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, depicts the story of a young girl, Jean Louise "Scout" Finch. The novel was popular at the time of its publication, though the book has also encountered censorship battles. Recently, librarians voted the book the best novel of the 20th century. Buy from Amazon »

05
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The Red Badge of Courage

When The Red Badge of Courage was published in 1895, Stephen Crane was a struggling American writer. He was 23. This book made him famous. Crane tells the tale of a young man who is traumatized by his experience in the Civil War. He hears the crash/roar of battle, sees the men dying all around him, and feels the cannons throwing out their deadly projectiles. It's the story of a young man growing up in the midst of death and destruction, with his whole world turned upside down. Buy from Amazon »

06
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The Member of the Wedding

In The Member of the Wedding, Carson McCullers focuses again on a young, motherless girl, who is in the midst of growing up. The work had started out as a short story; the novel-length version was completed in 1945. Buy from Amazon »

07
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Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Portrait of Irish writer James Joyce
Portrait of Irish writer James Joyce. Getty Images/Culture Club/Hulton Archive

First published in the Egoist between 1914-1915, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is one of James Joyce's most famous works, as it details the early childhood of Stephen Dedalus in Ireland. The novel is also one of the earliest works to employ stream of consciousness, though the novel is not as revolutionary as Joyce's later masterpiece, Ulysses. Buy from Amazon »

08
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Jane Eyre

Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre is a famous romantic novel about an orphaned young girl. She lives with her aunt and cousins and then goes to live in an even more torturous place. Through her lonely (and uncared-for) childhood, she grows up to become a governess and teacher. She eventually finds love and a home for herself. Buy from Amazon »

09
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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Bedford/St. Martin Press

by Mark Twain. Originally published in 1884, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the journey of a young boy (Huck Finn) down the Mississippi River. Huck encounters thieves, murders, and various adventures and along the way, he also grows up. He makes observations about other people, and he develops a friendship with Jim, a runaway slave. Buy from Amazon »