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MANILA, Philippines – If you’re yearning for a nostalgic trip down memory lane, these eight coming-of-age novels featuring plucky young protagonists (with just the right dash of romance) will transport you to worlds where the journey of self-discovery is almost as enchanting as the destination.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
In Stephen Chbosky’s New York Times best-selling novel, we get to meet Charlie, a high school freshman grappling with the complexities of being an adolescent. Although the book is set in the early 1990s, Charlie chronicles the ups and downs of his high school life through a series of heartfelt letters that are sure to resonate with readers today.
Charlie’s goes through a hard-earned journey of acceptance and self-love during high school and learns who his real friends are. In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Chbosky delicately and sensitively explores themes of mental health, the transformative power of friendship, and the universal quest to belong.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Delia Owens, an American zoologist, takes readers to the marshes of North Carolina in this murder mystery novel. Here, our protagonist Kya Clark, known as the “Marsh Girl,” grows up in isolation.
As Kya navigates a life shaped by abandonment and prejudices from people who misunderstand her, Owens weaves a moving narrative of love and loss set against the mysteries of the natural world. Where the Crawdads Sing is a lovely testament to human resilience and remains a reminder that time really does heal all wounds.
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Although dealing with more grim subject matter, The Lovely Bones is a moving tale about the beauty of loving and letting go.
The story is written from the perspective of a young Susie Salmon who is murdered and narrates her story from the afterlife as her grieving family tries to make sense of her loss and bring her killer to justice. Alice Sebold’s novel masterfully deals with the nature of grief, healing, and the enduring connections that transcend the boundaries of life and death.
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
Mica High School is forever changed when Stargirl Caraway, an eccentric and free-spirited student, arrives. Told from the perspective of Leo, a young boy who becomes captivated by Stargirl’s truly unique inner world, Spinelli’s New York Times bestselling novel tells a story of the impact of individuality and staying true to yourself, even in a world that values conformity above all.
In challenging the societal norms of her time, Stargirl leaves an indelible mark on all those who encounter her, and her true and steadfast spirit emblematic of the best of our youth is sure to tug on the heartstrings of readers both young and old as they face the challenges of the world today. The novel was well received for its nuanced character-building and messages, bagging a Parents Choice Gold Award, an ALA Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults Award, and a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year.
One Day by David Nicholls
One Day follows the lives of two young students, Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew, who meet on the day of their graduation and continue to cross paths on the same day, July 15 (St. Swithin’s Day) every year.
Spanning two decades, Emma and Dexter enter and exit one another’s lives at different points in time to varying degrees, but never quite leave one another’s radar. Nicholls’ novel explores all the unique complexities that come with friendship and love amid the passage of time. Through laughter and heartbreak alike, Emma and Dexter’s intertwined story – which was even named the 2010 Galaxy Book of the Year – reveal just how beautiful human connection can be.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
Set in the 1980s in El Paso, Texas, Sáenz’s young adult novel follows Aristotle “Ari” Mendoza and Dante Quintana, two Mexican-American boys who come to learn more about themselves and one another. Through their shared experiences, the novel explores racial and sexual identity, family ties, and the secrets that shape their universe.
Sáenz beautifully captures the nuances of adolescence in this critically acclaimed novel, with a Publishers Weekly review calling it “a tender, honest exploration of identity and sexuality, and a passionate reminder that love—whether romantic or familial—should be open, free, and without shame.”
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
Jenny Han’s delightful novel, the first of the trilogy series, introduces us to our protagonist Lara Jean Covey, whose life takes a turn when her secret love letters that were never meant to be read by anybody else are “accidentally” sent out – including to her older sister’s boyfriend.
In a fit of panic, she finds herself starting a fake relationship with one Peter Kavinsky, a popular jock who also happens to be her childhood friend. As she navigates the aftermath of her impulsive decision, the novel explores themes of young love, coming to terms with one’s identity, and the unexpected twists that come with growing up. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is a charming and heartwarming tale of self-confidence and of course, the unpredictable nature of love.
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
While The Song of Achilles takes place in Ancient Greece, Miller’s take on the legendary duo is a fresh, poignant look into how exhilarating and devastating the bonds that tie us together, no matter how young we are, can be.
Madeline Miller reimagines the myth of Achilles and Patroclus, weaving their story of friendship that blossoms into love amidst the hero’s destiny for greatness. Through the eyes of Patroclus, the novel explores their bond from childhood to the legendary events of the Trojan War. Miller’s lyrical prose and nuanced characters jump to life off of the page, offering a story of heroism, sacrifice, and the enduring power of myths that endure across eons to its avid readers. Miller’s book went on to win the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction.
These timeless coming-of-age novels only go to show that stories about growing up and finding yourself transcend the boundaries of age. Books such as The Song of Achilles and The Perks of Being a Wallflower offer their readers a chance to reconnect with their inner child and remember all of the trials and triumphs that come along with it. So, whether you’re seeking the warmth of nostalgia or looking for inspiration to face life’s challenges head-on as an adult, these classic tales are here to guide you as you get ready for the new adventures up ahead. – Rappler.com
Dana Villano is a Rappler intern.