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Top 9 Coming of Age Novels

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A coming-of-age story or novel is memorable because 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.

1. Great Expectations

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

2. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

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."

3. Catcher in the Rye

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).
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4. To Kill a Mockingbird

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.
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5. 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.
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6. 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.

7. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

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.
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8. 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.
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9. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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. But, along the way, he also grows up. He makes observations about other people, and he develops a friendship with Jim, a runaway slave.
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