Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Coming of Age

I have written about quite a few coming-of-age stories here (Lives of Girls and Women, Summer Sisters and Mister Pip all come to mind) and there are a few reasons for that. One, I suppose, is that it's a relatable genre; for writers who understand how to do it well, it's offers an exploration of youth and sexuality that you don't often find in other kinds of novels. I also love good character development, and a bildungsroman (the technical term) offers that in spades.

This morning, on the Guardian newspaper's book blog, there was a story about how Americans were the best coming-of-age authors out there. The author cited To Kill a Mockingbird and The Catcher in the Rye as classic examples of the superiority of American authors when it comes to exploring the lives of youth. As far as including those two novels as classic examples of the genre, I have no qualms. However, of the three I listed above, only one is by an American author (Judy Blume's Summer Sisters), the other two are by Canadian Alice Munro and New Zealander Lloyd Jones, respectively.

I admit that the first few coming-of-age stories you think of might be American, but it certainly doesn't take much to think of others. I don't want to make it sound like I'm snarking at the Guardian book blogger, but there are many countries who publish predominantly in English and aren't England or the States. Canada, New Zealand, Australia and much of the Caribbean (among many others) publish in English, and if you don't think Jamaica Kincaid (from Antigua and Barbuda)'s Annie John is a coming of age classic in terms of its exploration of race, sexuality, school and friendship, well, you must be missing out.

Normally, I guess, a blog post like this on the Guardian wouldn't concern me overmuch. But summer seems to be the season of coming-of-age. I don't know if it's because kids aren't in school, or because of the weather, but many of the best novels (and, admittedly, movies) in the genre are set at least partially during the summer. So to write a post like that, when this is the season to reread youthful books, just seems a little lazy to me, I guess.

What are your favourite coming-of-age stories? Feel free to leave them in the comments.

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