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Coming of age

9th July 2012 - Laura Crosby

The books we read as teenagers can have a profound impact on our view of the world, as Laura Crosby from our Bristol, Cabot Circus branch recalls.

I had a bit of a rebellious phase in my teenage years, as I'm sure most did. At least, at the time I thought I was being rebellious, but it turns out I was being rather naïve and completely oblivious to the world around me unless it interested me. I have always been into reading though, and through ages 14-18 I read madly of love, broken hearts, teenagers fighting to be heard and various other themes that were streaked through my teenage years.


I'm not long rid of those years, being in my early twenties, and I still fondly remember the first few novels that ever made me sit up straight and see the world from a completely different angle.


At 15-years-old, I read...

The Catcher in the Rye by J D SalingerThe Catcher in the Rye was the book that turned both my literary and real world upside down. We had to read it for part of our GCSE at school. Where others were reading 'Of Mice and Men', we were going through Holden Caulfield's train of thought with a fine, academically trained, tooth comb. My English teacher helped me love this book more than I ever thought I could love a novel about some teenage guy thinking more of himself than he perhaps should. It wasn't just coming of age, it was relentless in attitude and nonchalant wisdom. If you never read it as a teenager, then you sorely missed out; this book taught me that you can see everything however you want to see it, but at the end of the day, you're probably seeing it wrong. The protagonist, Holden, is a lonely, seemingly innocent boy attempting to find a place with solitude in a 'phoney' world which has otherwise rejected him. Everything is from his point of view, and not everything is as it seems. Written with flair and poignancy, this novel has become a true classic, and I doubt it will ever be anything less.


At 16-years-old, I read...

Diving In by Kate CannBeing 'in love', or so I thought, happened at 16. It turns out it really wasn't love at all, but I was 16 so I didn't listen to anyone else, obviously. During this era, I found a trilogy written by Kate Cann. Recently, the covers of this trilogy have changed to make it more appealing to girls, but I still remember them being called the 'Coll and Art' trilogy. The first one, Diving In dragged me into its story and the characters so much, that by the end of the trilogy I was reading them all again. It's a very realistic tale of dealing with your first encounter of love with a very fragile heart and letting that get somewhat in the way of the friendships you held so dear before now. This trilogy, as similar to other teen novels as it may be, still burns a fantastic memory in my head. It is very much a girl meets boy situation, but Coll and Art really do have something worth writing home about, and I'm just glad Kate Cann decided to do just that.

If you like this trilogy, you'll not be able to tear yourself away from her 'Moving Out' trilogy; much different, but along the same lines of love.

At 17-years-old, I read...

Push by SapphireAnother coming-of-age-esque novel that I remember from the incredible impact it had on me, is Push by Sapphire. This novel is about a girl, Precious, coping with abuse, family dysfunction and the welfare system as she struggles through her teenage years. It still resounds deep within me, to this day. Her writing is that of an uneducated, illiterate slang user, but her intelligence is that of the very opposite. She shows great potential, and at a turning point in her life, she begins to use it. This is truly an astounding novel, powerfully written in diary form with some shocking content. I have never looked at anything the same again.

As a bookseller, I find this one quite difficult to recommend; not because it is bad, that it certainly is not, but because of the horrifying content that society will probably never fully accept as something which goes on in the real world, on an hourly basis. Read this if you have a tough heart.


At 18-years-old, I read...

The Wasp factory by Iain BanksAt this age, I was really starting to love the darker side of fiction. The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks was written before I was a mere twinkle in my parent's eye, but I picked it up after having it recommended to me by a bookseller. I still vividly remember reading it wide eyed; breathless from the story that it took on. It is about a very disturbed boy called Frank, who has done terrible things at a teen age. Frank has many psychological issues, but for some reason I still very much wanted to be his friend. Something about him made me want to go to his house and join in with his activities, dark or otherwise, and without question. Now that is good writing. He is the farmer and murderer of wasps, and of the people and environment around him. A thundering good read. You'll be disgusted but smiling, for the writing is so tangible, so raw, so brilliant that you'll feel your morals slipping away - in the best way possible.


And now, at 23-years-old, I have just finished reading...

Apples by Richard MilwardLooking back, I have read some real attention grabbers, but the novel I just finished reading was one of the best in a much understated way. Apples by Richard Milward is a story of a group of teenagers living in a run down council estate and getting off their faces very often, to almost no consequence. But, as everyone knows, there must eventually be consequences to everything. This novel deals with drugs, rape, illnesses and teen pregnancy as well as a bucket load of everything else teenagers and others deal with.

It is told through a first person narrative of various characters, but more specifically Adam and Eve. I only made the link between the title, the characters names and the drug references on the cover a few days ago; very clever, but not as clever as the content. Written in a style that is 'down with the kids', Milward depicts a life of wrong doings through the eyes of those who learn by them, and also those who will never learn. Emotionally dynamic and realistically written, this novel must be read if you need a splash of the cold harsh reality that is our nation. I've never read a book where a male author gets female teenagers so right. The ending may not satisfy you in terms of tying up the loose ends, but I think that is part of the charm, after all who said anything about happy endings having to prevail?

If this novel infuriates you, I think it will do so in a way which is justified by how real and raw it is; similar to the real world. It just goes to show that maybe you don't need to be a teenager anymore to appreciate the joys and downfalls of literary teenagers.


As well as these, I have read many other coming of age novels that astounded me, some to the point of my recommending them as often as I can to teenagers who come through our doors. These novels include The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, Diamond Star Halo by Tiffany Murray, The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, Girlfriend in a Coma by Douglas Coupland and The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson.


The question I find myself asking now is, will my tastes keep changing and developing, enveloping more and more styles of fiction? Well, of course. I've gone from reading what may be considered 'terrible' teen stories of heartbreak, to the darker visions of Iain Banks, and now I'm looking into science fiction - something I'd never really considered before. I don't move on from genres, as I still quite happily settle down with a chick lit now and then, I'm just increasingly adding to the tastes I like to read. As those tastes lap up more of what fiction has to offer, I'll let you know. But for now, I think I hear The Hunger Games calling...


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