20 coming-of-age novels for your fall reading

20 coming-of-age novels for your fall reading

Readers, it’s September and I’m declaring it Fall Reading Season in my corner of the world, even if the weather here isn’t quite on board yet. I’m ready to ditch my beach reads in favor of something more reflective, melancholy, and nostalgic as we usher in the cooler months.

There’s something about crisp fall weather, combined with back-to-school season that brings to mind my favorite coming-of-age novels. Coming-of-age stories feature young protagonists learning big life lessons and finding their place in the world as they journey to adulthood.

Some coming-of-age novels are comforting and sweet, while others tackle tough themes and traumatic events that shape the characters’ lives. Today I’m sharing some of my favorite coming-of-age novels with memorable characters and timeless themes. This list includes a mix of nostalgic comfort reading and hard-but-hopeful stories.

We’re also celebrating the coming-of-age theme this fall in Book Club with our main picks, our flight picks, and our Book School content. Members keep telling us that right now Book Club is their island of delight in a difficult time. Take a look at our calendar to see the incredible author events and literary discussions we have planned for this season. Plus, new members get access to all of our past Book Club content, including yesterday’s Fall Book Preview! Click here to get started.

20 classic and contemporary coming of age novels

Some links (including all Amazon links) are affiliate links. More details here.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Author:
If you're new to this novel, brace yourself: Francie Nolan is about to win you over. Her Irish Catholic family is struggling to stay afloat in the Brooklyn slums, in the midst of great change at the turn of the century, while her charismatic but doomed father is literally drinking himself to death. But Francie is young, sensitive, imaginative, and determined to make a life for herself, and Smith gently shows us how Francie is like those Brooklyn trees that somehow manage to grow in the city, even in cement, even with no light or water. A moving coming-of-age story of unlikely beauty and resilience. More info →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Bookshop
My Brilliant Friend (Neapolitan Novels Book 1)

My Brilliant Friend (Neapolitan Novels Book 1)

Author:
This is the first installment of Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet, which revolves around the friendship between Elena and Lila; My Brilliant Friend begins when the girls are in first grade and carries them through adolescence. Their coming-of-age journey also tells the story of a changing nation. This isn't a quaint friendship story, though. The girls' relationship is complex. Thought-provoking, beautifully written, realistic enough to be quite difficult in places. But readers who love this LOVE IT. Reading tip: I adored this series on audio. More info →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Bookshop
I Capture the Castle

I Capture the Castle

Author:
Full of reflection and romance, this coming-of-age novel is perfect for reading any time of year. 17-year-old Cassandra is a remarkable narrator, who captures her eccentric family’s daily life—in their ramshackle old English castle—in her diary. The three volumes which comprise this book are full of her funny and poignant stories. Completely charming and replete with love, magic, writer's block, and bear costumes. More info →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Libro.fm
Buy from Bookshop
A Prayer for Owen Meany: A Novel

A Prayer for Owen Meany: A Novel

Author:
Irving is a masterful storyteller, and has a knack for drawing compelling characters. This novel, which gently addresses heavy themes of fate and faith, is widely believed to be his finest. During a Little League game, 11-year-old Owen Meany hits a foul ball, resulting in a terrible accident. What follows is the coming-of-age story of an incredibly rich character. Read it for yourself to find out why this book tops so many readers' "desert island" lists. More info →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Bookshop
The Age of Miracles: A Novel

The Age of Miracles: A Novel

This YA novel is a little bit science fiction, a little bit coming-of-age. After years of watching the earth for signs of distress, the danger comes in a form no one expects: the rotation of the earth begins to slow, wreaking havoc. 11-year-old Julia is forced to deal with the Slowing plus typical adolescent drama in this haunting novel. I love this one so much, I included it in Volume III of One Great Book. More info →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Bookshop
Silver Sparrow

Silver Sparrow

Author:
Adolescence can be a fraught time even without any additional family stress. Of course, in literature, complex family situations make for compelling page-turners and memorable coming-of-age stories. With a jaw-dropping opening line: "my father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist," Jones writes about the link between two African-American half sisters, one legitimate and one secret, only one of whom knows the other exists. That is, until the secret of their father's second marriage starts to force its way into the open. More info →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Bookshop
Purple Hibiscus

Purple Hibiscus

A coming-of-age story about family, religion, and freedom. I love Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, and I loved this one. It follows fifteen-year-old Kambili as she navigate turmoil in her home life and in her country. Reminiscent of The Poisonwood Bible, for its portrayal of a well-intentioned but seriously misguided and doomed man, whose practices harm both his family and his community. Adichie expertly ratchets up the tension in quiet moments and makes her characters' inner strength shine with her command of dialogue and prose. More info →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Bookshop
Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go

Author:
An eerie take on the coming-of-age theme. Ishiguro expertly combines speculative fiction and literary fiction to great effect. I talked about my love for this one in Volume III of One Great Book . Haunting and atmospheric, with a sad truth that dawns on you gradually. Ishiguro slowly introduces the reader to three teens in a 1990s British boarding school. His prose says so much while revealing so little, as it slowly dawns on the reader what is not-quite-right about these children's lives. More info →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Bookshop
Bastard Out of Carolina

Bastard Out of Carolina

Author:
This modern classic is often compared to The Catcher in the Rye or To Kill a Mockingbird. It follows Ruth Anne Boatwright of Greenville County, South Carolina, a bastard child known as "Bone" who observes the world around her with searing honesty. Her stepfather's cruelty places her in danger and threatens the tight bonds of her family. This is a tough, grim coming-of-age story. Allison's prose is stunning, but readers should be aware that the story revolves around poverty and abuse. More info →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Bookshop
Piecing Me Together

Piecing Me Together

Author:
A Newbery Honor Book and winner of the Coretta Scott King Author Award. This is the story of Jade, a 16-year-old African American girl struggling to navigate two worlds—that of her wealthy mostly-white high school, and the poorer neighborhood where she lives with her family. This is a nuanced but easy read about feeling out of place, coming into your own, and the perils of good intentions. Years after reading, I can't stop recommending this one. And psst—my tween girls LOVED it. More info →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Bookshop
Go Tell It on the Mountain

Go Tell It on the Mountain

Author:
Baldwin was the son of a preacher and the grandson of an enslaved person, and his life experiences heavily inform this semi-autobiographical 1953 novel, which tells the story of one day in the life of a 14-year-old boy in Harlem in the late 1930s. The boy, John Grimes, struggles with hypocrisy in the Pentecostal church while also finding comfort in the community. Baldwin powerfully writes about John's spiritual and sexual awakening as a young, gay Black man and a person of faith. More info →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Bookshop
The House on Mango Street

The House on Mango Street

Author:
This modern classic is a coming-of-age almost-memoir of a young Latina girl, Esperanza Cordero, who is inventing the woman she will grow up to be. The story unfolds as a series of vignettes—some joyful, some heartbreaking—that draw the reader deep into her Hispanic Chicago neighborhood. Esperanza's observations feel at once highly specific and incredibly universal, as she reflects on growing up on Mango Street, and how she eventually wants to leave. More info →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Bookshop
American Street

American Street

Author:
When she and her mother arrive in America, Fabiola's world is turned upside down when her mother is detained by immigration officials. Not only did she just leave her home in Haiti, now she must travel to Detroit—alone—to live with family she's never met. Fabiola strives to hang on to her heritage, and the hope of seeing her mother again, while going to school and experiencing her first romance. Zoboi is an excellent storyteller. Be sure to read the author's note. More info →
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Bookshop
The Great Alone

The Great Alone

Author:
A riveting coming-of-age story featuring a fabulous setting, amazing female leads, and ultimate redemption. It’s 1974, and Leni Allbright’s father Ernt, a former Vietnam POW, suffers from terrifying PTSD. The family moves to Alaska in search of a fresh start, but they're utterly unprepared for the harsh reality that greets them. As winter draws near and darkness closes in, Ernt’s mental health deteriorates, with disastrous consequences for the family and community. Yet Leni will survive—and maybe even thrive. More info →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Barnes and Noble
Buy from IndieBound
This Tender Land: A Novel

This Tender Land: A Novel

Part Grapes of Wrath, part Huckleberry Finn: this tough and tender coming-of-age story focuses on four Minnesota kids during the Great Depression, whose respective situations become ever more impossible due to human cruelty and circumstance. After a tornado demolishes the last of life as they know it, they realize no one is going to save them—and so they make a plan to save themselves that starts with escaping down the river. A great story, beautifully told. More info →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Libro.fm
Buy from Bookshop
The Poet X

The Poet X

Acevedo's first novel-in-verse won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature. Xiomara finds her voice as she pours her soul into her notebook. Every frustration, every harassment, every triumph and every secret is turned into a poem. When she gets invited to share her work in slam poetry club, Xiomara isn't sure if she can keep her passion secret from her strict family. But she soon learns that speaking up and living her truth is the only way to be fully herself. More info →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Libro.fm
Buy from Bookshop
How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents

Author:
Alvarez tells a fictionalized version of her biography in fifteen interconnected stories. The Garcia girls, four sisters, arrive in New York in 1960—a huge change from their cushioned, wealthy lives in the Dominican Republic. As they acclimate to their new home, mourn what's lost, and find themselves, the sisters share a close bond. The chapters alternate with each sister's perspective, giving the reader a vivid glimpse at four different coming-of-age stories. More info →
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Bookshop
Red at the Bone

Red at the Bone

The book opens with a special coming-of-age ceremony. Melody enters the room in her grandparents' Brooklyn home wearing the same dress her mother wore sixteen years ago. From there, Woodson weaves Melody and her mother's stories together in a lyrical novel about legacy, parenthood, ambition and desire. For a completely immersive experience, listen to this one on audio. Bahni Turpin is among a full cast of narrators who bring the family to life. More info →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Bookshop
Tuck Everlasting

Tuck Everlasting

Author:
When an overprotected ten-year-old stumbles upon a boy her age drinking furtively from a spring near her home, she discovers what he's trying to keep secret: since his family began drinking the water, they haven't aged a day. Winnie soon learns to love the boy and his family. When they're threatened by an outsider, she takes action. Previously sheltered, she learns to live by her convictions—and about the precariousness of life and death. Rereading this one as an adult is especially illuminating, and the prose is really lovely (which is not a code word for boring). More info →
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Libro.fm
Buy from Bookshop
Emily of New Moon

Emily of New Moon

Author:
If you come to Montgomery’s later, darker series expecting to find a second Anne, you’re bound to be disappointed. Luckily, my grade school self had no such preconceived notions. These were the first books that I finished under the covers with a flashlight at 2:00 a.m. because I had to know where Emily’s hopes, dreams, and disappointments led her. The darker tone makes this coming-of-age novel perfect for fall reading, and the theme of a young girl finding her identity and learning about the world is vividly present in all of Montgomery's works. More info →
Buy from Audible.com
Buy from Amazon Kindle
Buy from Amazon
Buy from Bookshop

Have you read any great coming of age novels lately? Tell us about them—or what you’re currently reading—in the comments.

P.S. Let’s make Autumn reading a thing! Here are 10 excellent fall nonfiction reads, and 31 spooky (but not too scary) books for your fall reading list.

20 coming-of-age novels for your fall reading

39 comments | Comment

39 comments

Leave A Comment
  1. Tabitha Steinbock says:

    My absolute favorite coming of age novel is “Fireflies in December” by Jennifer Erin Valent. Little bit of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Man in the Moon” movie feel, but with a sweet coming of age story that transpires over this book. The two other books follow the story of this young girl through her teen years. It’s always such a fun read!

  2. Ally says:

    SO MANY of these books are my favorites that I go back to over and over again. Looking to explore some of the ones I haven’t read just yet!

    • Irene Gifford says:

      Yes, the audio is great. Nice to here the British accent. She does a wonderful job. The sequel is not as good, I thought.

  3. Hannah Rodewald says:

    Cold Sassy Tree, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, and Davita’s Harp are perspectives on coming of age told by 3 young people growing up in very different ways.

  4. Katy Picken says:

    I’ve just read “I wish you all the best” by Mason Deaver, which is a coming of age novel about someone coming out as non-binary, and learning to come to terms with their own identity as well as the changes coming out brings to their life. An easy quick read, and very well done.

  5. Tracey says:

    This is a genre I really love. I’ve read 7/20 on this list and will check out some others! I would also add to the list: The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Great Expectations, Black Swan Green. Also a couple coming-of-age stories by Canadian authors: Lives or Girls and Women by Alice Munro, The Guardians by Andrew Pyper (which is reminiscent of Stephen King’s The Body, another Great c of a story.

  6. Rachel says:

    Anything Elizabeth Acevedo writes is excellent! I’d highly recommend her With Fire on High, about a teen mother finding her talent for cooking, opening herself up to love and advocating for her dreams. Acevedo’s latest book Clap When You Land is also a beautiful portrayal of two teens who, due to a tragic plane accident, discover they are half-sisters. Each girl finds themselves questioning their identity and finding a new future after horrible loss.
    In all of the books, Acevedo’s prose and poetry style is evocative and engaging, pulling you into a particular place and time and what it feels like to be young in that place, in that time.

  7. KT says:

    Unlike most readers I couldn’t abide A Tree Grows in Brooklyn or I Capture the Castle. Most of my friends did, so I’m not posting this comment to be a downer but to share some recommendations for those who may be weird like me. I really like Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt, Anne of Green Gables, and Little Women.

    • emily says:

      Yes…up a road slowly. I was thinking about that book but couldn’t remember the name of it. I was hoping someone would mention it in the comments!

    • Kay says:

      I think I am just like you, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was slow and just not my thing at all. I have read two of your choices (Anne of Green Gables is my all time favourite book) and will be looking for a copy of Up a Road Slowly which is completely new to me. Thank you for the recommendation. x

    • Jennifer Cook says:

      I was coming to the comments to mention Up a Road Slowly also. That one has stuck with me all of my life. Also, definitely Little Women!

  8. Christine says:

    Just finished Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. Audiobook is read by Lin Manuel Miranda. Great coming of age listen.

  9. Janice Hoaglin says:

    I have loved several of these. I also really liked The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell by Robert Dugoni. I also really enjoyed Chronicles of a Radical Hag by Lorna Landvik, which is a coming of age story within a story of a woman’s life.

    • Irene Gifford says:

      I have read a few of these. I really liked Great Alone but not as much as The Nightingale, also by Hannah. It has been a while but I liked Tuck Everlasting. Great message for all of us about aging. I did not love My Brilliant Friend and thought it read like an Italian soap opera. Although two of my fellow teachers really liked it. I just finished Lady Clementine about Winston Churchill’s wife. Excellent read and would highly recommend.

  10. Aimee says:

    Read I Capture the Castle earlier this year and absolutely adored it! For sure, it is a five star book. The Anne of Green Gables series will always be the best coming of age books to me. I could never get into the Emily series but still read the Anne series in my 40s.

  11. Sarah says:

    Ahhhh! How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents is one of my favorite books EVER. Love seeing it on this list. Thanks for another great guide.

  12. Elise says:

    I have enjoyed so many of these books! I’ll add:
    The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
    David Copperfield
    The Wednesday Wars
    Madeleine L’Engle’s Austin family series (Vicky Austin is one of my favorite adolescent heroines trying to figure out her world and her place in it)

  13. Michelle Ann says:

    Some really great books mentioned, and some others I would like to try. I would add ‘The Greengage Summer’ by Rumer Godden, my favourite coming of age novel. Three children are left to their own devices in France after their mother becomes ill on holiday. It gives a wonderful view of France in the 1950s.

  14. Wendy Barker says:

    I’m glad you pointed out the Emily books from L. M. Montgomery. I loved the Anne books but the Emily books had that little extra something that really hooked me. I’ll add another book that I just read recently that fits this category. Roll of Thunder,Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor is the story of a young black girl growing up during the Depression in rural Mississippi with all the attendant racism and poverty.

  15. CKlex says:

    Darius the Great is Not Okay was an endearing book that combined the themes of Persian culture, depression, and LGTB With the coming of age story. Loved the first person voice as well. Great on audio!

  16. Susan B says:

    I have lived many of the books listed and see a few others I want to explore. One I thought interesting in this category was The Syringa Tree by Pamela Gien.

  17. Emma says:

    Love the diversity in the American authors.

    I’ll add a few from my own UK/Australian reading experience:

    *Atonement – Ian McEwan
    *Warlight – Michael Ondaatje
    *A Separate Peace – John Knowles
    *The Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. Lewis
    *The Strays – Emily Bitto
    *Jasper Jones – Craig Silvey

  18. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you for the diversity of your recommendations, so many interesting choices! Can’t wait to read Piecing Me Together by Renee Watson, since it takes place in Portland!

  19. Linda O'Donnell says:

    Listened to Darius the Great Is Not Okay on audio. Waiting for next installment: Darius the Great Deserves Better. Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt is one that I’ve put on my “To Keep” shelf. Turtles All the Way Down by John Green was another good one.

  20. Michelle Wilson says:

    Anne and MMD team, I would like to commend you. These lists are always so well thought out as well as diverse. Thank you

  21. Lyndall says:

    You are correct when you admitted that Bastard Out of Carolina was tough. I have not recommended it to too many people because it is so raw. I’m glad I read it but it is difficult to read.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *