10 Coming-of-Age Novels Perfect for Summer Reading

BY ANDREA MORAN • July 3, 2024

10 Coming-of-Age Novels Perfect for Summer Reading

Now that summer break is in full swing, the warm weather has been urging my kids and me outside for long, restful periods of reading in the sunshine. Watching them devour their favorites—a few of which I read when I was younger but many of which are delightfully new to all of us—I can’t help but reminisce about all the coming-of-age novels that helped shape my love of literature, as well as my views of those around me, myself, and the world at large. Some I read as a child and others I’ve only recently discovered, but all of them involve epic tales of finding oneself. Read on for a few of my all-time favorites.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Giving us what is possibly the most satisfying character arc out there, this novel introduces us to Jane as a child. We then have the privilege to watch her overcome her wretched circumstances to become a strong, outspoken young woman who marries the love of her life. Yes, there are a few hiccups along the way (ahem), but her and Mr. Rochester’s joy at the end is unparalleled. Jane’s happy ending is well deserved, and her journey toward it is what coming-of-age stories are all about.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
I could have chosen any number of Dickens novels to include on the list, but this one has always struck me as his greatest. Pip’s bleak beginnings give way to unimaginable wealth after a mysterious inheritance, but Pip soon learns that money can’t buy happiness—or the heart of the cold and standoffish Estella. Along the way, he learns about love, loyalty, and second chances, and becomes all the better for it.

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
This modern gem follows Jules, Jonah, Ethan, Ash, Goodman, and Cathy from their first meeting at a summer camp for the arts in the 1970s all the way to their tumultuous adulthoods. Through the decades, they learn that what makes them unique while they’re young doesn’t necessarily translate into success when they’re older. Competing egos, a life-changing crime, and the hum of the ordinary all combine for a compelling journey through adolescence.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
An utterly enthralling tale that follows Callie’s journey to become Cal. It’s a moving portrait of finding one’s way in the world, as well as an insightful study of generational trauma, family secrets, and the type of freedom that can only come with finally learning to love yourself. While the bulk of the story remains with Cal, readers also get glimpses into the lives of other family members as they grapple with what happiness really means.

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
Apparently humans aren’t the only ones who get growing pains. Ishiguro’s quietly emotional tale of Klara, an Artificial Friend, begins with Klara in a store, eagerly waiting to be chosen by someone who truly needs her. Once chosen, however, she struggles to reconcile her vision of the world with the reality that surrounds her.

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
Frances is a twenty-one-year-old whose best friend (and ex-girlfriend) ultimately ingratiates the pair into the same social group as Melissa, a thirtysomething photographer, and her actor husband, Nick. When Frances and Nick embark on a torrid secret affair, you’ll likely find yourself simultaneously cringing at and empathizing with her naivete.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Sixteen-year-old Lydia seemingly has everything. But when she’s found dead, those around her begin to crumble. Her Chinese American father has always struggled with being an outsider, while her blue-eyed mother still resents giving up her dreams of becoming a doctor. As the narrative jumps back and forth between the years and days leading up to Lydia’s death and the present, it offers a searing look into the pressures and expectations that come with fulfilling the dreams that parents have for their children.

A Separate Peace by John Knowles
Gene and Finny are best friends at a prep school during the early years of World War II. Their rivalry in everything from academics to sports mainly stems from Gene’s jealousy of the ease through which Finny seemingly goes through life. After a questionable accident ends in tragedy, Gene is forced to confront his own delinquencies to find his place in the world.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Perhaps better known for her poetry, Plath demonstrates her immense talent for prose in this semiautobiographical coming-of-age novel that centers on Esther, a nineteen-year-old woman who is desperate to escape the confines of the suburban 1950s life in which she lives. Her journey—through depression, electroshock therapy, boyfriends, suicide attempts, a stalled writing career, and much more—sheds a necessary light on mental health while remaining a timely examination of the roles of women in society. At the novel’s conclusion, Esther’s future remains open-ended yet filled with hope, just like life itself.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Janie, a middle-aged Black woman, returns home to reminisce about her life leading up to the present. Her desire for true love fuels her actions throughout the novel, but the road to romantic fulfillment is long and winding for Janie. Through it all, she becomes more confident in what she wants and, perhaps more importantly, what she’s worth. It’s a bittersweet journey that some would argue never really results in Janie getting what she wants, but her powerful growth as a woman who makes her own decisions in life is inspirational nonetheless.


Andrea Moran lives outside of Nashville with her husband and two kids. She’s a professional copywriter and editor who loves all things books. Find her on LinkedIn.

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