Coming of Age -- fiction
I started listing adjectives to describe My Brilliant Friend, by Elena Ferrante: visceral; violent; passionate. This is the first in a series of four Neapolitan Novels by an elusive Italian author who writes under a pseudonym. Elena and Lila’s friendship is full of envy and love as they claw their way out childhood into adolescence in a poverty-stricken quarter of Naples in the 1950s.
Quentin Coldwater is used to being the smartest person in the room. Some would even call him a genius. Even in the world of elite private schools, Quentin is bored out of his mind, finding his only escape in the fictional world of Fillory. Fillory is a fantasy realm existing in a series of books from his childhood, books which years later still resonate with him as a young adult. Quentin’s ho-hum existence is interrupted and forever changed when he is spontaneously transported to Brakebills University, a school for people like Quentin who have the potential to perform magic, real magic.
Johanna Morgan knows she is an embarrassment. After humiliating herself on live television, she realizes that to be cool, hip, and respected, she can’t be herself. In How to Build a Girl, by Caitlin Moran, we watch Johanna reinvent herself into the girl she wants to be.
Brooklyn is a tough place to grow up in the early part of the 20th century. It’s made of immigrant families struggling to get by. Young Francie Nolan, half German and half Irish, adores her handsome father, the sometime singing waiter, and her more hard-minded mother who scrubs floors and does much to give her kids a better life. But, uneducated as her parents are, they have few choices and huge problems that a bright girl like Francie can certainly see.
Young in years but not so much in worldly cares, Rose Meadows is set adrift when her wayward father abandons her permanently and her handsome, caretaking distant cousin takes up with the local Bolshevik crowd. But, in Cynthia Ozick’s historical novel Heir to the Glimmering World, Rose doesn’t give up. She takes matters into her own hands and answers an advertisement for a research assistant in a town miles away.
Summer is almost here and many children will be heading to camp. Most parents try to find a camp that will speak to their children’s interests or talents. In the year of the Watergate scandal and Nixon’s resignation, six campers at an arts camp called Spirit-in-the-Woods decide to call themselves, with typical teenaged self-absorption, The Interestings. At camp, everybody gets a trophy for participation, but once they pass through the door into adulthood, who will be ones to keep up with their talents and who may be the one to show it to the world?
Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman is the story of Rory Dawn Hendrix, a girl growing up on the Calle de las Flores, a trailer park on the outskirts of Reno, Nevada. The Calle is a neighborhood where people live from government check to government check. It is a place where a mother must take the night and weekend shifts because the tips are better and they need the money to survive, even though there is no such thing as reliable child care. It is a world where a mother's determination to spare her daughter the abuse she suffered as a child isn't enough to give her the skills to identify the true risks to that girlchild.
How would George Washington behave in New York society in the 1930s? The ladies and gentlemen of post-Depression-Era New York have had to reinvent the old rules of order in Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility. The women are experimenting with new freedoms where they don’t want to figure out how to marry the man with the power and money—they want to be him.
In this story, partly a Sex in the City romp, Katey Kontent, daughter of Russian immigrants, and her friend Eve Ross, who is trying to escape her Midwestern small city blues, make a brand new start of it on New Year’s Eve 1937 in the greatest city in the world. They meet banker Tinker Grey that night. They think he is the “King of the heap/top of the list,” and he has a well-studied copy of Young George Washington’s 110 Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation to guide him. The three form a friendship/love triangle, but Tinker’s secrets will test their loyalty. Katey and Eve are not afraid to meet their futures, but Tinker is stuck in the past.
“It was June and long past time for buying the special shoes that were quiet as summer rain falling on the walks. June and the earth full of raw power and everything everywhere in motion. The grass was still pouring in from the country, surrounding the sides, stranding the houses. Any moment the town would capsize, go down and leave not a stir in the clover and weeds. And here Douglas stood, trapped on dead cement and red-brick streets, hardly able to move.”
The opening piece in Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine finds Doug Spaulding at the start of his twelfth summer, yearning for a pair of running shoes that will let him be a part of the glorious season. Like the dandelion wine bottled and stored in his grandparents’ cellar, the memories of that long-ago summer are preserved to be savored by his readers.
Gemma Hardy’s story parallels Jane Eyre’s experiences—both have an evil aunt and have to work for their educations at boarding school as charity girls. Both girls are bullied and treated unfairly by family, school staff, and students. Both girls have disappointments with men who have secrets. If you enjoyed Charlotte Bronte’s gothic tales or Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, you will love The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey. Set in the 1950’s and 1960’s in Scotland and Iceland, the author uses the imagery of birds and flight to underscore Gemma’s journey.