There is something special about the coming-of-age genre. As a reader, it’s thought-provoking and relatable to witness the highs and lows of growth in a character’s life. No matter who we are or where we come from, we all come of age in our own way – making it the ultimate commonality. So, if you are seeking an empathetic story that speaks to fundamental aspects of the human experience, check out these three highly acclaimed coming-of-age novels.
Lunchmeat by Ben D’Alessio
(Fiction / Coming of Age)
It’s not easy to grow up in a world in which you feel like you don’t belong – and that is the case for Victor Ferraro. In his mind, he is a heroic and chivalric knight plucked from the Middle Ages and stuck living in 1990s New Jersey. As he gazes out of his first-grade classroom, he is more interested in dreaming up sweeping epics than learning how to subtract. He frequently imagines battlefields riddled with arrows, orc corpses, and other mystical creatures. But of all the dangerous creatures that live in his mind, none are as powerful as what he faces in real life – a Goliath in chestnut topsiders, Pierce Stone wields a weapon more powerful than any battle-ax or broadsword. And Victor soon learns that at his new school, kids like Pierce Stone fight with words.
In this heart-racing coming-of-age masterpiece, you’ll follow along as Victor must endure the painful, inescapable moments of growing up in an unkind world. Surrounded by foes and few friends, he somehow must find his way. When he is forced to confront Pierce, Victor’s smattering of Itanglish might not be enough to take on his new enemy, but his obsession with Hell might just save him yet.
In this book, you follow Victor, from his impressionable childhood to the formidable years of high school, on his search for Hell—his own ordained quest for the Holy Grail, woven throughout his life like a thread of darkness. This is quite an impressive, intense, and thought-provoking work of fiction – skillfully written by author Ben D’Alessio.
Come Watch the Nighttime Breathe by Jeff Gray
(Fiction / Coming of Age)
A 2022 bestseller, Come Watch the Nighttime Breathe is Jeff Gray’s terrific introductory book of the Seeking Satori series. The book follows a young man named Tristan Wallace as he comes of age and begins his journey to learn the meaning of life and more specifically – the meaning of his life.
Tristan grew up in a sheltered environment. Born and raised in a small, Midwestern town in the 1970s by a middle-class family, his early years were enriched in Catholic values. His safeguarded upbringing never allowed him to adapt properly to the full realities of life. As a result, his desire to gain an understanding on the meaning of life and the meaning of his life is raised by more than just curiosity and desire. It is heightened with an inner torment and a crippling sense of guilt. As he grows, ages, and seeks to forge his own path, he is influenced by Catholicism, inspired by Buddhism, yet tortured by restlessness deep within him.
As the story plays out, Tristan meets four rebellious, reckless men. Unbeknownst to them, they will serve as his life’s guides. The night comes alive, these men introduce Tristan to a new world, his curiosity is captured, and he ventures down the paths seldom traveled. Many of these paths are well hidden within the shadows of the night, filled with alcohol, forbidden desires, exploration, and sex. Powerfully and purposefully written, this novel takes you on an unforgettable journey that shines light on the tumultuous experiences of male self-discovery.
Not Everything Melts by Nicholas Acosta
(Fiction, Coming of Age)
There is a powerful connection between people and place – and that theme resonates throughout Nicholas Acosta’s novel, Not Everything Melts. Strongly influenced by his upbringing in Wisconsin, the author wonderfully captures fundamental themes of growing up in the state in this novel.
The book takes place in a town called Cherry Grove, Wisconsin. In Cherry Grove, hockey is everything. So, when superstar Thomas Maxwell-Pruitt arrives from California, the whole town is on alert. It’s been years since Cherry Grove North last hoisted the State Trophy, and their hopes of winning are finally starting to feel real again. But a growing friendship with the team manager, Alexis, is dredging up emotions and a past that Thomas hasn’t wrestled with in a long time. Meanwhile, Alexis is wrestling with college applications, her senior year, and more.
Throughout this deeply personal, engaging story, the temperature heats up, and the ice between the two begins to thin. Will Thomas and Alexis be able to hold on? Or will their friendship melt away? Relevant for all, this is an excellent read that captures the essential aspects of the coming-of-age genre.