While I love to read all sorts of fiction, my favorite books fall into the very general category of coming-of-age stories. Two recent novels of this sort that I really enjoyed were We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo and We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. While they are very different novels in most respects, they both concern young women who are struggling to make sense of the role that their childhoods and families play in the women they are becoming.
We Need New Names focuses on Darling, who is 10 years old and living in Zimbabwe when the novel begins. Darling lives with her grandmother in a dilapidated shantytown nicknamed “Paradise”, where they have lived since being driven out of their houses in the city during political unrest. She spends her days running around with her group of friends, stealing guavas from the yards of rich neighborhoods and dreaming of America. Darling, unlike her friends, gets a chance to move to America to live with an aunt and then has to try to adjust to the cold winters of Detroit, a far cry from the heat and the dust of Paradise. While she enjoys many of the luxuries and opportunities of her new life, she misses her friends and struggles to stay in touch with her roots, feeling torn between the harsh differences between her reality and those she left behind in Zimbabwe.
Rosemary, the narrator of Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, also struggles to reconcile memories of her past and the realities of her family history. The novel does contain a twist (although one that is revealed in most reviews), so I won’t go into too much detail of the plot. It concerns Rosemary, who is a college student, delving into the history of her parents and her siblings and a traumatic event from the past and the profound effects it had on shaping their lives and personalities. Rosemary tells people she has one sibling, a brother, but she once had a sister to whom she was quite close. Rosemary is an engaging narrator, clever and witty, and the novel unfolds with continual surprises in an exploration of memory and family that is both humorous and heartbreaking.
Have any favorite coming-of-age novels? Let me know in the comments!