Our favourite coming-of-age stories

Discover our edit of the very best books about growing up.

Writers and readers repeatedly return to the subject of growing up. The confusing, difficult, and exciting journey from child to adult is one that provides authors with endless material. We've put together a list of what we consider to be the very best coming-of-age books and novels about growing up.

All the Pretty Horses

by Cormac McCarthy

McCarthy’s Border Trilogy begins with the story of sixteen-year-old John Grady Cole, the last bewildered survivor of long generations of Texas ranchers. Finding himself cut off from the only life he has ever wanted, he sets out for Mexico with his friend Lacey Rawlins. Befriending a third boy on the way, they find a country beyond their imagining: barren and beautiful, rugged yet cruelly civilized; a place where dreams are paid for in blood.

Little Women

by Louisa May Alcott

If a novel has been made into a film several times and they're all great, and all somehow tell a different story while telling the same one, then you know that the book is probably worth a read. Thousands of teenagers around the world have fallen in love with Marmee, her four daughters – Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy – and neighbour, Laurie. This semi-autobiographical novel charts the highs and lows of the four sisters as they navigate their way from childhood to adulthood during the American Civil War.

The Catcher in the Rye

by J. D. Salinger

Book cover for The Catcher in the Rye

The ultimate novel of disaffected youth, Salinger’s seventeen-year-old dropout Holden Caulfield is the definitive voice of teenage angst and alienation. Written with the clarity of a boy leaving childhood, it deals with society, love, loss, and expectations without ever falling into the clutch of a cliché and feels as relevant today as in the 1950s.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

by James Joyce

A dysfunctional family. A repressive boarding school. Various beautiful women. James Joyce's first novel follows the life of Stephen Dedalus, an artistic and fiercely individual young man. It's an unforgettable depiction of childhood, adolescence and the Ireland of one hundred years ago (and also includes a sermon about hell so terrifying it could make even the most hardened of atheists a little concerned).  

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

Book cover for To Kill a Mockingbird

Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with exuberant humour the irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class in the Deep South of the 1930s as their father, lawyer Atticus Finch, defends a black man charged with the rape of a young white woman.

Great Expectations

by Charles Dickens

Possibly the most well-known bildungsroman ever written, the story of Pip’s journey from his humble origins to an unexpected life of wealth and privilege and the painful and humbling lessons he learns along the way, remains one of Dickens’ most popular novels.

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

by Maya Angelou

Book cover for I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

In the first volume of her six books of autobiography, Maya Angelou beautifully evokes her childhood with her grandmother in the American south of the 1930s. She learns the power of the white folks at the other end of town and suffers the terrible trauma of rape by her mother's lover. Despite her enduring love for the world, she realises its cruelty.

A Boy's Own Story

by Edmund White

The story of a young boy growing up in the fifties in an American town. Beset by aloof parents, a cruel sister, and relentless mocking from his peers, the unnamed boy struggles with his sexuality, seeking consolation in art and literature, and in his own fantastic imagination as he fills his head with romantic expectations. The result is a book of exquisite poignancy and humour that moves towards a conclusion that will allow the boy to leave behind his childhood forever.

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit

Book cover for Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit

This is the story of Jeanette, adopted and brought up by her mother as one of God's elect. Zealous and passionate, she seems seems destined for life as a missionary, but at sixteen, she decides to leave the church, her home and her family for the young woman she loves. Innovative, punchy and tender, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is a few days ride into the bizarre outposts of religious excess and human obsession.


by Judy Blume

Katherine and Michael meet at a party. The attraction is instant, and pretty soon they're seeing each other. This is love, and love is forever – right? Discussion around what is arguably Blume's best-known book tends to focus on its brave, honest portrayal of Katherine losing her virginity, but there is a great deal more here. It's an account not only of first sex, but of first love and first heartbreak, and the realisation that good things don't always last forever, and that that's OK. 

The Hate U Give

by Angie Thomas

Book cover for The Hate U Give

Sixteen-year-old Starr lives in two worlds: the poor neighbourhood where she was born and raised and her posh high school in the suburbs. The uneasy balance between them is shattered when Starr is the only witness to the fatal shooting of her unarmed best friend, Khalil, by a police officer. Now what Starr says could destroy her community. It could also get her killed.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

by Mark Twain

The classic American coming-of-age novel, in which teenage misfit Huckleberry Finn and Jim, who has escaped enslavement, set off to find freedom on the Mississippi. They encounter trouble at every turn, from floods and gunfights to armed bandits and the long arm of the law. 

Is This OK?

by Harriet Gibsone

We move to a very modern coming-of-age tale now, with Harriet Gibsone's outrageously funny, raw and painfully honest account of a life formed in the early age of the internet. Harriet spends much of her young life feeding neuroses and insecurities with obsessive internet searching and indulging in whirlwind ‘parasocial relationships', but after a diagnosis of early menopause in her late twenties, her relationship with the internet is thrown into sharp relief. Forums, MSN Messenger, the tyranny of Instagram mumfluencers: all of online life is here. 

Purple Hibiscus

by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Book cover for Purple Hibiscus

Pray, study, sleep, repeat. Kambili's life is limited by the walls of her family estate and the religious zeal of her fanatical father. But when Nigeria is shaken by a military coup, Kambili is sent to live with her aunt. In this house, noisy and full of laughter, she discovers life and love – and a terrible, bruising secret deep within her family.


by Marjane Satrapi

Book cover for Persepolis

These two graphic novels (The Story of a Childhood and The Story of a Return) form an astonishing visual memoir of growing up in Iran. The intelligent and outspoken child of radical Marxists, and the great-grandaughter of Iran's last emperor, Satrapi bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country.

The Young Team

by Graeme Armstrong

At fourteen Azzy Williams is a rising star. At seventeen he's out of control. And by twenty-one, he'd like to leave it all behind. But finding a way out isn't easy. The Young Team is an energetic novel full of the loyalty, laughs and violence of life on the streets. This powerful story about the realities of life for young people in Britain today is inspired by the author's own experiences of teenage life. In the forgotten heartlands of Scotland, your mates – your young team – they're everything you've got.