Coming of Age Books for Girls and Women

With the approach of the holidays, I find myself searching for books to gift, because books are my favorite gifts to receive. For me, the healthiest way to cope with the crush of the holiday season is to curl up under a blanket in my favorite chair and open a book to begin an incredible journey.

As I work to put together a recommended reading list for students in my Women Writers class, I have been thinking quite a bit about coming of age stories for girls and women. I recently read two very good ones—the classic A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (1943), and Someone: A Novel by Alice McDermott (2013). What links the two is a female protagonist who spends her youth in Brooklyn in the early part of the twentieth century. Both books are beautifully written stories about all of the moments—mundane and life altering—that make up a woman’s life. An unremarkable woman’s life. A life like most of our lives.

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Reading these two works sent me on a search for other female coming of age stories. The classic tales that I have carried with me through the years, some that I now teach, include I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood by bell hooks, The Woman Warrior: Memories of a Girlhood Among Ghosts by Maxine Hong Kingston, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston., and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

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More recent coming of age books that continued to swirl around my head long after I read them include The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, and White Oleander by Janet Fitch.  Both of these painful yet beautiful stories address girls who have been abandoned to the foster care system, yet grow to find their own strengths, gifts, and place in the world. Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees and The Invention of Wings are also excellent reads with strong female protagonists.

One unique book I recently read for younger girls is Ophelia’s Oracle: Discovering the Healthy, Happy, Self-Aware and Confident Girl in the Mirror by Donna DeNomme and Tina Proctor. Another is Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson.

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If you area looking for coming of age books for girls and women, two great resources are A Mighty Girl and a list kept by Kay Vandergrift of Rutgers. What coming of age books do you recommend for girls and women? I would love to add to my own reading list, and gift some special titles to the women and girls in my life this holiday season.

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