Coming of age books often deal with pain, healing, and newly learned wisdom. Not all do. Some coming of age stories are about finding meaning within the angst of growing up. The definition I like best from Cambridge Dictionary says that coming of age is “the time when someone matures emotionally, or in some other way.“
2017’s gifted us with a plethora of moving coming of age middle grade books so far. I highly recommend all these novels.
There’s a power to reading about another individual’s maturing. It puts the reader in the shoes of someone who, like them, is trying to make meaning out of life.
11 Meaningful Coming of Age Books, 2017
See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng
Luminous and heartfelt, 11-year-old Alex Petroski’s story will grab your heart and expand it. His dream is to launch a rocket into space with his iPod of recordings about life on earth. The story is a transcription of what he records on the iPod — his solo journey to the rocket convention, the interesting people he befriends on the way and there, his trip Las Vegas to find information about his deceased father, and his unique, innocent perspective that tries to make sense of the the world.
The Someday Birds by Sally J. Pla
The Someday Birds is magnificent story of emotional growth and healing. Charlie’s dad has brain damage from the war. When he’s moved across the country to a different hospital, Charlie and his siblings follow on an adventure that Charlie doesn’t want. But as the kids travel, along with a 20-something girl they hardly know, he searches for the birds he and his father always wanted to see . . . someday. The journey brings Charlie, who has autism, way out of his comfort zone. As it does, he grows in ways he never imagined. And Charlie hopes that if he can see all of the Someday Birds, his dad will get better.
Lemons by Melissa Savage
Lemonade’s mama always told her to make lemonade out of lemons but it’s pretty darn hard when you’re mom is dead and you’re living with your stranger grandfather in a small town. She befriends a Bigfoot-obsessed boy named Tobin. They spend the summer hunting Bigfoot, helping Lemonade grieve, and making all sorts of amazing discoveries — including Tobin’s missing dad, Bigfoot, and healing.
Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar
After a terrible car accident, Ruthie’s entire body is in a cast. She’s stuck in bed for months, then more months, then over a year with no television (it’s 1960). In a story based on the author’s real life, we see this time of hardship punctuated by a vibrant, caring neighbor, a loving school tutor, and a determined physical therapist. Overall, Ruthie feels gratitude that she didn’t die, even on her hardest days but it’s a challenging time to say the least, one that I personally connected to because of a daughter with a long-term illness.
The Warden’s Daughter by Jerry Spinelli
All Cammie wants is a mother. So she tries to get her prison inmate housekeeper to take the job. Which doesn’t work, making Cammie madder and madder. Little does she know that the housekeeper, Eloda, is doing everything she can to help Cammie grieve and move past her anger.
Forever or a Long, Long Time by Caela Carter
It’s almost impossible for former foster kids, Flora and Julian, to believe their new home is really a forever home. Not when they’ve had so many broken promises in the past. To help them believe and heal, their adopted mom takes them on a journey to their past foster homes. For answers. And to help them build a strong future. We feel the pain and the trauma as these siblings bravely face their past so they can find their future. Beautiful and haunting.
Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan
Amina’s struggling. Her best friend, Soojin, befriends another girl as well as wants to change her name to be more American. Then Amina’s mosque is attacked, dimming her worries about middle school. In a lovely turn of events, the community, including her friend Soojin, support the mosque with a place to gather and rebuilding efforts. Through it all, Amina learns there’s space for more than one friend in her life.
Well, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail
Growing up means crushes, . . . awkward crushes. That’s why Gracie helps out her friend Sienna who is scared to text the boy who likes her. In the spirit of Cyrano and middle school drama, you’ll find this to be a realistic, amusing story of middle school romantic challenges that works out just fine in the end.
The Bonaventure Adventures by Rachelle Delaney
If you like the circus, grit and determination, and misfit heroes, then this book is for you. No-talent Sebastian Konstantinov’s family’s circus is dying so he decides to enroll under false pretenses (that he’s talented) in a circus school. He hopes he’ll learn something to save their circus. At the Bonaventure school, he befriends a home schooled boy from the forest and a parkour talented girl from Rome, both who are labeled as misfits by the director. This is an entertaining adventure of friendship and self-discovery.
Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan
Julia narrates the experience of participating in a summer theater production of the Wizard of Oz. She meets adult friends and mentors who share life lessons and help her define who she is and the person she wants to be. Her voice is authentic and compelling. Her coming of age growth feels perfect and wonderful. “I grew this summer. Not on the outside, but on the inside. And that’s the only place where growing really matters.”
The Ethan I Was Before by Ali Standish
We can’t figure out happened before to Ethan’s best friend, Kacey, only that his family has moved because of it and Ethan feels responsible. Now, living in a small town with his grandfather, Ethan befriends a storytelling girl named Coralee who has her own past. Events prompt both Ethan and Coralee to face their grief and guilt so they can live their lives moving forward. A powerful, well-written coming-of-age story.