Five books

7 deep, dark coming-of-age stories

First love, self-discovery and newfound freedom have inspired plenty of coming-of-age novels. But in these seven books, our young heroes face some darker rights of passage...

 

The Girls

Emma Cline

For a teenage girl to explore the world around her is no unusual thing. But what young Evie finds just a few miles from her house in sunny sixties California is entirely out of the ordinary. Neglected by her mother, forgotten by her friends, Evie seeks a new crowd and a new scene. When she stumbles across The Girls - a group of glamorous, bohemian beauties - that's just what she finds. However, in the heady days of peace and love, The Girls signal quite the opposite, and soon Evie is taken in and lead astray.

 

Nina is Not OK

Shappi Khorsandi

Nina has always liked a drink or two. She’s seventeen years old, after all. But Nina drinks more than her friends, often until she blacks out. When her step-dad tries to move the family to Germany, Nina insists she can take care of herself at home. Instead she drinks more and more, until she wakes up after the mother of all blackouts. This time, she knows something bad happened, and decides it's time to tackle her drink problem. But the road is a rocky one, as she struggles to navigate the pitfalls of drink, family, drugs, sex and social media.

 

The Secret History

Donna Tartt

This year marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of Donna Tartt’s now-classic debut novel about a group of six close friends at a prestigious New England university. We learn at the start that one of the six, Bunny, has been murdered, after stumbling across a truth that poses a threat to a much richer, more privileged member of the group. But it’s not as simple as all that. As the lies and mysteries unravel in this claustrophobic college environment, loyalties are tested, promises broken and lives changed forever.

 

My Name is Leon

Kit de Waal

Jake loves his brother Leon unconditionally, and he’s not quite sure why the grown-ups are struggling to understand. But Leon is black and Jake is white, and they’re growing up in 1980s Birmingham, in the midst of race riots, protests, police violence and poverty. When their mother is unable to take care of them they go into foster care, they find some much-needed stability… but it’s not long before the social workers arrange to have Jake adopted permanently, leaving Leon behind.

 

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

Jeanette Winterson

Jeanette Winterson pulls no punches in her semi-autobiographical tale of a northern girl (called Jeanette) as she grows into an independent spirit in a strictly Pentecostal home. This is more than just a few teenage fights – Jeanette’s philosophies on life take shape before our eyes. And they’re in complete opposition to those of her family. Eventually, she until she reaches her limit and attempts to flee. She is bright, sensitive and a lesbian – everything her mother cannot abide. And yet, as we know, Jeanette goes on to flourish.

 

The Fault in Our Stars

John Green

Of all the titles on this list to deal with tragedy and adversity, this one has to be up there for the sheer gravity of its plot. Hazel and Gus are teenagers, both with cancer, both reluctantly attending a peer-support group in their hometown. Over time they begin to fall in love, but we know from the start that Hazel's diagnosis is terminal. With what time they have, Hazel and Gus embark upon a journey to meet the author of a novel that has inspired them both through dark times.

 

Atonement

Ian McEwan

Atonement is a dark and twisted tale of three lives torn apart and rebuilt again by a monstrous world war and a thirteen-year-old girl. Briony is too young to understand the passionate moment she walks in on one day, but her innocent misunderstanding - and the allegations that follow - change her sister’s life forever. Cecilia and Robbie are separated by Briony’s claims and give up their dreams to serve in the war. As Briony matures, the enormity of her mistake begins to dawn on her, and she spends the rest of her life trying to atone for its impact.

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