Book reviews: Coming of age novels in a new age

I have just read a little bunch of young adult novels, each of them dealing with that age-old theme, coming of age. Each of these books was set roughly around the time I was growing up too, maybe a little earlier, so I assume the authors are close to my contemporaries. I found each of these to be a compelling read, and it was interesting to read them so close together, so I could compare. The topics raised (namely, sexuality and revolution) are both fairly universal – in that they have and can come up at any time in history – but also so very singular to the narrator/author, which I suppose is true of any coming of age novel. It might just be me, but I find this new wave of coming of age books to be less innocent and wide-eyed wondrous than ones from earlier generations. Perhaps its just the way I read them.

I also feel like everyone was having WAY more sex than I was in high school. Or maybe it just makes for a better book? I don’t know, I was pretty sheltered growing up.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

When I first started this book, it was very much not what I expected. It was in journal format, a young boy narrating his day to day life, and it was poorly written to boot. I almost put it down right then, but I’m glad I stuck it out, because it ended up being thoroughly heart-warming. The narrator is a bright, somewhat disturbed boy, a freshman in high school who clearly has some issues, including a friend who recently committed suicide and lurking, not-spoken of sexual molestation that may or may not have occurred in the past. He is taken in by stepbrother and sister Patrick and Sam, who are kind to him and help him blossom (and come to terms with his past). He is encouraged by an English teacher to read and write more, and I noticed that the writing within the book massively improved as things went along. It was subtle and I though masterfully done by Chbosky.

I’ll admit I only checked this book out because of the new movie with Emma Watson in it (I love her! I want to support her career), and I prefer to read the book before the movie. I wonder if the movie will be able to capture the rather dark, yet still tender, mood prevalent through the book.

Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi

Confession: I felt like I was supposed to like Persepolis more than I did. I think it was an interesting read, but there were a few drawbacks for me.

The first is the graphic novel format. I’ve never really been into graphic novels, and this is something I’m trying to rectify. One of the reasons why I read Persepolis. It’s just, I find it a little disjointed and have trouble slipping into the story the way I can with conventional books. My problem, I know, but I think it will take some time to get into it. If anyone wants to recommend some good graphic novels to help with this, let me know!

My other problem was the subject matter, centering around a Persian girl growing up during the Iranian Revolution. Super interesting to get her point of view, especially in a society moving from liberal western values to conservative religious ones, and how that affects the rights, freedoms and values of young girls most affected by these. But … I almost wanted this to be MORE about the revolution, what was going on in the country and large-scale effects. The narrator, a young girl who eventually moves to Europe to escape the regime, then returns again to find her world upside down, is narcissistic and self-absorbed – as are we all at that age. It seemed somewhat limited.

I’d still very much recommend these books, but it has shown me I have more reading to do – both on the Iranian Revolution, as well as graphic novels!

The Miseducation of Cameron Post, by Emily M. Danforth

I forget where this little gem was recommended to me, but it was a really good read. A young lesbian in small-town Montana has to deal with the prejudices and fears of her friends, family and society. She is eventually forced into one of those Christian “straighten-em-out” schools, where religious leaders attempt to brainwash children into hating themselves so they can finally accept the lord into their disingenuous hearts. It’s pretty disturbing material, but Danforth writes through this lightly, making for an honest read. I enjoyed this. The ending is VERY open, making me crave a little more. I want to know what happens to Cameron Post! I think that’s always a good sign of a good book … always leave them wanting a little more!

Word of the day:

Prosaic: commonplace or dull; matter-of-fact or unimaginative: a prosaic mind; of or having the character or form of prose rather than poetry.


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