If given time alone in a bookstore, I will always gravitate towards a coming-of-age story. That’s why I wanted to round up all the best coming-of-age books in one place!
I think there is something so magical and character-making about the time when each of us transforms from a child to an adult. For some, it happens overnight, brought on by a tragedy or specific event. For others, it’s a long, arduous process of trial and error – where mistakes are made and abilities are tested.
But one element is at the root of each of these coming-of-age novels – growth. So below, you’ll find historical fiction, memories, contemporary fiction, and more coming-of-age books for teens and adults. Let us know which ones you like best!
*the best coming-of-age books Post contains affiliate links. Purchases made through links result in a small commission to us at no cost to you. Some books have been gifted. All opinions are our own.
The Best Coming-of-Age Books of 2023
Hula is one of the best books of 2023! I picked up this book based on the cover and the thoughts of the hula dance competition, but instead of the fun read I was expecting, I got a coming-of-age story about a light-skinned Hawaiian who is trying to prove she belongs by learning to Hula.
But this Hula isn’t just a dance, it keeps the legends and legacies of the Hawaiian culture alive. Sprinkled throughout this story, while Hi’i is fighting to prove her worth, we see glimpses of her mother and grandmother’s lives, as well el as vignettes that explain Hawaii’s history, colonization, and the struggle of native Hawaiians today.
There is so much to uncover in this book, so many layers to absorb. I was entertained while reading it, but more importantly, I learned so much. I’ll be raving about this for years to come! This is one of the best thought-provoking books I have ever read.
January 2023 Read with Jenna Book Club Pick
This is the coming-of-age story of Sam, from 7 years old until about 19 as she navigates life where she doesn’t quite fit in with her peers. She lives with her mom and younger brother, while her dad flits in and out of her life depending on if his addiction is under control.
As she grows up, Sam falls into rock climbing, scaling buildings and walls, sometimes competing on teams, and always trying to find her place in the world.
As a mom, it was so interesting to see the world through Sam’s eyes. I sympathized with her struggles but also wanted to get in there and mom her myself! I did find the closure I wanted for her at the end of the book and I was proud of her as if she was someone I actually knew!
March 2023 Oprah Book Club Pick
I adored this family saga about the four Padavano sisters and the man that enters their family orbit. William Waters grew up in a house with indifferent parents, so he fell head over heels for Julia and then her family.
But William’s inner demons cause a rift between the sisters that shakes the family to its core and dramatically changes the dynamics between all the Padavanos. Told over decades, this story examines the ties that bind us to our family through the ebbs and flows of life.
As one of four children, this coming-of-age story really spoke to me. Napolitano does an incredible job of accurately depicting the individual sibling relationships with one another and the role each person plays within the larger family dynamic. It’s a tall order and a near-impossible challenge to nail the complexities of a big family, but Napolitano does it with aplomb.
It’s going to be one of the best books of 2023 without a doubt. It strikes a balance between creating moments for book club discussion but also being entertaining enough to be a beach read pick. It’s a book about sisters I’ll be recommending to everyone all year.
February 2023 Read with Jenna Book Club Pick
This story about Maddie, known as Maame to her family, was immersive and beautifully complex. Dealing with friendships, racism, familial obligations, and then grief, this story swept me away. Maddie lives in London as the primary caretaker of her father who has Parkinson’s. Her mother spends most of her time in Ghana.
I felt fiercely protective of Maddie while reading this book. There were times I wanted to swoop in to relieve some of the burdens of this wonderful character with a heart of gold. But it was more rewarding to see Maddie finding her inner strength and learning to prioritize herself and her dreams.
I can’t recommend this coming-of-age book about grief enough – especially as a book for book clubs. It’s one of the best books of 2023 and a great pick for a list of book club books. This is one of the heavier books in our beach reads 2023 post, but the list would not be complete without it. This is also one of the best novels about Africa I have ever read.
The Best Historical Fiction Coming-of-Age Books
Another Kristin Hannah story, another NYT best seller – and for good reason! I liked this coming-of-age story set. in the Alaskan wilderness.
This book is so haunting. I could not get it out of my head. Kristin Hannah is an amazing writer with wonderful characters. Her stories feel realistic almost to a fault. They are heartbreaking and heartwarming and utterly unforgettable. I did not think that I would like a book about Alaska but, I could not put it down.
Ernt Allbright has come home from the Vietnam War traumatized and as his mental state deteriorates, his wife, Cora, and daughter, Leni, must learn to navigate the Alaskan wilderness on their own. If you love family drama books set in the 70s, this one is not to be missed.
This coming-of-age book set in the 70s in Afghanistan is one of the most emotional books I’ve ever read. I sobbed for a full 30 minutes after the last chapter. The story of the friendship between a wealthy boy and his servant is one filled with betrayal, tragedy, and heartbreak.
Told against the background of Afganistan’s destruction and the war, this sweeping tale is a must-read if you are looking for books that will emotionally wreck you.
This coming-of-age story examines the relationship between a black woman and a white girl in apartheid South Africa in 1976. This novel is a brutally honest and emotionally compelling story, unlike anything I have ever read.
This book begins just before the 1976 Soweto uprising in which thousands of black students marched in protest of the apartheid government. Though the protest was peaceful, police open-fired killing a hundred children.
This historical fiction book led to the most amazing discussions with our book club. The characters jump off the page. I was completely absorbed from the first sentence on the first page until the last page of the book. It is powerful and poignant and one of Jackie’s all-time favorite books. This is an African Novel that you will not want to miss.
The 213 pages of this book will haunt me for a long time. Mr. Whitehead brings characters to life and holy crap can this man write. There is a reason he has won the Pulitzer Prize two times. I have had this book since the day it was released and needed to find the courage to read it. I’m so glad I did.
Elwood Curtis is a black boy who lives in Florida in the 1960’s. When he is unfairly sentenced to a crime, he is sentenced to live at the Nickel Boy Academy. This horror show is disguised as a school and based on a real school that existed for 111 years.
This is a beautiful book that takes place in occupied France during the Second World War. It is the coming-of-age story of a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths cross as they try to survive the war.
When their stories converge it becomes a story that you will not soon forget. This winner of the Pulitzer Prize is obviously well-written but it is also a beautiful and readable book.
It is one of the coming-of-age books set in France that I read years ago and it has stayed with me. It’s also a great book for book clubs, if yours hasn’t read it yet!
Check for more Historical Fiction coming-of-age novels on this list of our fave #histfic.
More Historical Fiction Coming-of-Age Novels
Wow. This powerful coming-of-age story takes place over the summer that KB turns 11 and moves in with her grandfather for a few months. While her mother is off seeking treatment, KB is still grappling with the recent loss of her father to opioid addiction.
As she tries to acclimate to her new surroundings, she meets cousins, learns to connect with grandpa, deals with racism for the first time, and watches her sister grow further from her as she becomes a teen.
KB was a powerful narrator and Harris’s talent is evident in the way she wrote KB’s voice. I look forward to reading more from Kai Harris in the future.
October 2021 Read with Jenna Book Club Pick
Once again, Amor Towles writes an incredible, character driven-story that had me marveling at his writing ability.
The coming-of-age story is all about Emmett and his 8-year-old brother, Billy, and their quest to get to California to start a new life following the death of their father. Along for the ride are the scheming Duchess and his sidekick.
Their journey intertwines in this fast-moving character study of the 4 boys. It was a touch too long, but still a wonderful story from a gifted writer.
I was blown away by the Cruz’s latest coming-of-age novel which explores her Dominican roots. 15-year-old Ana dreams of moving to America, envisioning a life of glamour, wealth, and freedom. She accepts the hand of a husband twice her age to fulfill her dreams but is in for quite an awakening when she makes it to the Bronx.
Her immigrant story was filled with strength and courage as over the course of a year-and-a-half meek Ana is molded into a strong woman. Miserable in her life, Ana is forced to choose between duty to her family and her dreams
October 2019 Read with Jenna Book Club Pick
Ann Patchett has done it again with this tale of sibling devotion. Danny and Maeve are victims of an abandoned mother and father who all but ignores them.
Danny narrates the coming-of-age story of their lives as it ties into The Dutch House – a storied mansion that their father purchased in Elkins Park. This home is the blessing and curse of their lives.
The sign of their father’s success and what ultimately breaks up their family. The siblings gather together on Thanksgiving in this emotional and complex family saga book that is a perfect fall book. It is on our best of 2019 list for sure.
I’d seen this book on lots of anticipated reads lists and was eager to listen when I was given the opportunity. This poignant tale was told, and narrated, by multiple characters and jumped between the present and the past as it weaves together the story of a family.
At Melody’s coming-of-age ceremony at 16, we find out about her own parents’ history. The story had me engrossed immediately and the ending brought tears to my eyes. I felt like I was a part of Melody’s story as I listened to the book.
I highly recommend the audiobook because of the various narrators for each part. All the different voices bring such depth to the performance. Jacqueline Woodson is even one of the narrators!
Contemporary Coming-of-Age Novels
This is a beautifully written and poignant book about family, love, and how much we can forgive those that we love. This book is the story of two families who live next door to one another and find their lives intertwined.
This is such a realistic family drama book that deals with topics like mental illness and alcoholism. At times, I found it hard to read this coming-of-age story because I could feel the characters’ pain.
This is a heavy story that also has a lot of heart. It’s about a small-town hockey team and the fallout when the star player is accused of raping the GM’s daughter.
Frederik Backman is a master story weaver. He doesn’t just tell a story but, he submerges his reader deep in the lives of his characters. This town will follow me for a long time. It’s my favorite of all the Fredrik Backman books and is the first in a three-book series.
If you are looking for coming-of-age books set in high school that will completely blow your mind, this is the one.
April 2022 Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick
True Biz is an eye-opening look at the life of deaf high schoolers in boarding school. The ins and outs of deaf society are fascinating and made me realize I knew so little about the deaf community.
I learned about the ASL vs hearing aids debate. I learned about the politics and drama that go into running a deaf school. I learned that there is a black version of ASL and it’s possible to be racist when signing. t
And of course, I fell for the romantic entanglements and blooming friendships between the students.
This is definitely one of the best coming-of-age books set in high school I have read and this is the perfect book for your next book club!
Lombardo’s debut is a tremendous contemporary fiction book about the complicated dynamics and hidden secrets of the Sorenson parents and their 4 daughters.
The coming-of-age story is told alternately in the present day when Jonah reunites with the daughter that gave him up 15 years prior, and the past touches on moments in the Sorenson family history that are coming back to haunt them.
Each character is deliciously flawed in a way that makes you feel like you’ve known them for years. I love that at the heart of the story, the book is about the many forms of love and how to live well. I cannot believe that Claire Lombardo is not a 50 or 60-year-old woman with children of her own.
This is one family saga book you must read! It’s perfect for our list of books about sisters!
if you are looking for more contemporary fiction coming-of-age novels, check out this post.
Young Adult Coming-of-Age Books
Aristotle and Dante seem to have nothing in common when they first meet other than the fact that they are both loners. But, as they start spending more time together, they learn truths about themselves and develop a friendship that will change them both forever.
This award-winning LGBTQ book is such a fantastic YA coming-of-age story that is so well written. It has so much emotion that it had me in tears which is not a usual thing for me.
This fantastic and incredibly relevant young adult novel tackles the Black Lives Matter movement. Starr is straddling a line between two worlds. She attends a prestigious prep school where she is one of 2 black children in her grade but she lives in a poor neighborhood 40 minutes down the road.
She switches her personality so that she can fit in wherever she is, never truly being her whole self. When she witnesses her unarmed childhood best friend get killed by a policeman her entire life changes.
She needs to decide what to tell and to whom because her words can have dire consequences for her family and her community. It’s a truly wonderful coming-of-age story that all young adults should read.
After hearing a lot about this particular coming-of-age story, I quickly snatched it up, and let me tell you, the hype is real. This story is set in Philly (which I love) and features a Black woman of Caribbean descent who is entering her senior year of college.
Emoni wants to be a world-class chef but struggles with pursuing her passions in the kitchen while balancing the responsibilities of having a toddler. It’s a true coming-of-age story that is as delicious to devour as the many recipes described in the book.
This book is perfect for a list of books similar to Lessons in Chemistry because the two main characters have so much in common. Both are trying to balance career and parenthood and both are chefs! And as books set in high school go, this one is five-stars.
I was in university when this book was published and the first four were sitting on my younger brother’s bookshelf before I picked it up to see what the fuss was about. I read all four books in as many days and was married with a child before the final book was published.
This is the book that introduces us to Harry, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger; our fearless trio. We also meet the other favorite beloved and detested characters that make the Harry Potter book series so special. After all, what would Hogwarts be without Hagrid, Dumbledore, Professor McGonagall, Professor Snape, and Draco Malfoy?
Harry Potter shows up on our list of books like Percy Jackson too! And if you love Harry as we do, check out our 17 Books like Harry Potter for Kids Obsessed with Magic or 21 Adult Books Similar to Harry Potter for Fans of Magic.
If you are interested in starting Harry Potter, head to our guide on the Harry Potter Books in order to get a free printable!
Classic Coming-of-Age Books
I’m pretty sure this coming-of-age tween book is required reading for everyone! Jess Aarons has been practicing all summer so he can be the fastest runner in the fifth grade. And he almost is, until the new girl in school, Leslie Burke outpaces him. The two become fast friends and spend most days in the woods behind Leslie’s house, where they invent an enchanted land called Terabithia.
One morning, Leslie goes to Terabithia without Jess and a tragedy occurs. It will take the love of his family and the strength that Leslie has given him for Jess to be able to deal with his grief. This realistic fiction book set in the 70s is an award winner for a reason.
My mother was the first person to read this middle grade book to me and I was immediately drawn to Anne. She was smart, precocious, and has a way of making everyone love her while simultaneously finding new ways to get into trouble.
I read this coming-of-age book again when I was a teenager and then again as an adult. I will be reading this to my daughter next. Every time I read it, I am able to capture more of the nuances that are hidden within the pages. This is a beautiful book about friendship and found family.
I am not sure if this realistic fiction book is more popular in Canada but, one day I hope to visit Prince Edward Island. This is one of my (Jackie) all-time favorite books.
I remember reading this coming-of-age novel with my grandmother when I was young. It features a family of four girls who are trying to support each other and their mother while their father is away at war.
The classic story by Alcott has survived for generations for a reason, the way she wonderfully encapsulates what it’s like to be in a family. The highs and lows of the personal and collective lives of Beth, Jo, Amy, and Meg are an endearing testimony to the bonds of sisters.
If you have not read this book about motherhood from our list of literary classics, we highly recommend it. It’s also a good first classic book for 13-year-olds.
Middle Grade Coming-Of-Age Books
I cannot count the number of times I have read this book. It is a coming-of-age book that was ahead of its time and is even more relevant to the world today.
It’s about a young girl named Scout, whose father (Atticus) is a lawyer in her Southern town. As she grows, she realizes the prejudices within her town – culminating in her watching a trial as her father defends Tom Robinson, a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman.
This book won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and was also made into an Academy Award-winning movie. It’s unforgettable and a must-read. If you are looking for books that make you think, this pick from thought-provoking books will fit the bill.
Coyote Sunrise lives with her Dad, Rodeo on an old school bus, riding around the country but never returning to the place where her mother and sisters died.
Until Coyote gets a call from her grandma that the park where she hid a memory box is scheduled to be torn down. Soon Coyote needs to figure out a plan to get her dad back to Washington before she loses that box.
Filled with life lessons and charming strangers they meet and transport along the way, I adored Coyote and her unique life. My kids listened along to this coming-of-age novel with me too and they felt the same way. This is the first in a realistic fiction series starring Coyote.
My son adored Pay Attention, Carter Jones. He loved the premise of the butler coming over to teach Carter to play cricket. He liked how Carter learned about how to be a gentleman from the butler who is strict, but exactly what the family needs during their troubling time.
He’s recommended it to a few of his friends already and my mom even read it and enjoyed it! It’s a heartfelt, thought-provoking read in all the best ways. It’s one of our favorite coming-of-age books for 13-year-olds.
This recently banned book tells the story of Mia and her family who are immigrants from China. Mia’s struggles to be successful in America are met with the divide between classes in her school, the racism she faces, and her family’s quest to make ends meet.
I loved learning from Mia and watching her problem-solve to help her family as they took over caring for the Calivista Motel. If you are looking for realistic fiction middle grade books that skew a little younger, check out this realistic fiction book. This is one of the coming-of-age books for 11-year-olds that adults will love too!
Wow. This was one of the realistic fiction audiobooks for tweens I listened to with my own kids and we all just adored it.
It’s a coming-of-age story about a deaf girl who is struggling to connect with her community and a whale named Blue 52 who can’t find his ocean community either. She sets out to connect with Blue 52 and along the way she finds her inner strength in a beautiful
This middle grade book for 10-year-olds is delightful for adults too!
Looking for more middle grade coming-of-age books? There are tons on this list!
Celebrity Book Club Coming-of-Age Books
August 2022 GMA Book Club Pick
Mika’s life is falling apart in this thought-provoking novel. She’s lost her job, she’s running low on funds, and she just received a call from the daughter she gave up for adoption 16 years ago.
As Mika crafts a life she thinks her daughter Penny will approve of, she’s forced to find her own potential and grow up to be someone Penny can admire. I was frustrated by Mika in the beginning of the story, but she grew on me.
This was a different take on a coming-of-age novel, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I will admit when I saw the description of this coming-of-age book, I was not sold. A trusted individual, who has never steered me wrong in the past, gave me an advanced copy so, I took the leap. And wow, am I glad I did. I read this book and then recommended it to everyone I knew. It is one of the best mystery novels I have ever read.
This 70s book has that spark, that special something, that makes it extra. The book begins when a body is found in a North Carolina marsh and is identified as Chase Andrews. The story moves between the past and the present to tell the story of Kya Clark, The Marsh Girl, who is a suspect in the murder.
We have an entire post dedicated to this book and how to host a book club around it which makes it a perfect book for book clubs! If you love this book, check out our list of 13 books like Where the Crawdads Sing.
October 2018 Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick
Wow! There are so many things that I loved about this contemporary fiction book. Rosie and Penn have five boys. The youngest, Claude wants to be a girl when he grows up. As this family navigates life with secrets, there is never a good time to explain that your youngest daughter was born a male.
These loving and supportive parents try to navigate a world in which not everybody is open-minded. This family drama book is poignant and all too realistic. It captures the innocence of youth and the struggles of an entire family. This is one of the best book club books on this list of coming-of-age novels.
November 2021 Read with Jenna Book Club Pick
Set in the 30s and 40s in Red Hook, NY, this family drama story is about two girls born into the Italian Mafia. Sophia and Antonia are the best of friends, neighbors, and daughters of local mob members.
The story spans their childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood as they navigate their relationships with each other and “The Family.”
It was captivating and wonderful to learn about the lives of the women in the crime family. It’s a must-read mob novel that doubles as a coming-of-age book.
This is an amazing recount of Jeanette Walls’s upbringing and childhood. She is a successful journalist and writer living in New York City.
Her parents also live in New York; however, they choose to be homeless. Jeanette Wells’s upbringing was unconventional and her parents did not offer her a structured childhood. This is a fantastic coming-of-age book and as non-fiction books go, this one reads like fiction.
This coming-of-age book had me thinking about it for DAYS. I mean truly, DAYS. This book about poverty shows the impact how a lack of education can impact generations.
Tara’s journey was inspiring, heartbreaking, and thought-provoking all in one. This nonfiction book about cults had great insight into more extremist religions and survivalists.
I don’t usually read memoirs and I heard great things about this book. I loved it so much- it made my list of favorites for the year last year. It is such an amazing story that reads like a novel rather than non-fiction.
A moving memoir of life as a Chinese immigrant in America. Qian and her family moved to America for opportunity, but hurdle after hurdle is thrown their way.
As her parents try to put food on the table, we learn about the immigrant experience through the eyes of Qian as a child. From her near-constant hunger to trying to acclimate to her new school system, Wang writes in a way that makes the reader feel what she felt.
Truly a moving account of her early life. I challenge anyone to read this and not wonder how broken our immigration system is. If you are looking for a coming-of-age book to make you think, this is the one for you!
Jeanette Mccurdy, star of the show iCarly and Sam and Cat, has written her heartbreaking memoir. Forced into acting at 6 years old by a mentally ill and unstable mother, Jeanette lived her life trying to make her mother happy. The result was an eating disorder, addiction, and abuse. This is a profound pick in our list of books about mental illness.
I listened to this coming-of-age book and found it hard to put down while also finding it extremely difficult to listen to at times because it is such a sad book. This is an amazing pick from our books about mothers.