Thinking on Thursday… COMING-OF-AGE NOVELS.

Hey ya’ll. Okay so numero 1 – sorry about my disappearing act this week. My little sister and baby nephew came into town Sunday night and just left yesterday afternoon, so I had very little time for tweeting, reading blogs, and commenting. Hoping to do a lot of catch-up today.

Soooo this is my topic for today – I think I’m going to start avoiding any novel that’s described as “coming of age”.

A coming-of-age (COA) story or novel is supposed to be about the main character’s moral and psychological growth, usually some sort of change or events that cause that character to grow up a little. I won’t necessarily say that it has to be a change during a period from adolescence to adulthood, because I think people can change at anytime, especially if it’s due to some big life-changing event. A fifty year old man could almost die and all of the sudden have a big epiphany about life that causes him to live the rest of his years differently. But a COA story should definitely be about one character’s change for the better, when they really start to come into their own.

When I think of COA books, I think of books like To Kill a Mockingbird. Scout is changed as a result of the events going on in her town – for the first time, she really sees how ugly and horrible racism is and the effect it can have on people. The book marks a big change in her life – she loses that blissful ignorance that children have and starts to see the world around her with new eyes. It marks the beginning of the end of her childhood, and the beginning of becoming a young adult. The Giver is another good one – kid sees how flawed his society is and makes a big, life-changing decision as a result of it.

I also think of The Kite Runner – Amir, through being a coward, destroys his friendship with his best friend. The guilt and shame over these events follows him into adulthood, until he finally decides to attempt to make things right and earn some sort of redemption for himself. His COA story spans a much longer time period, but he still eventually takes actions that change who he is as a person, and he learns from the mistakes that he’s made.

I’ve noticed lately that the COA term (fun fact – the official term for a COA novel is “bildungsroman”) seems to be flying around a lot lately, and not in a good way. A recent novel that I’ve seen described as COA is A Visit From the Goon Squad, and I definitely don’t think it fits into that category. Besides the fact that it’s short stories about a crapload of characters, most of those characters don’t change for the better – they whine and complain about how their lives ended up so crappy. They make mistakes as kids and young adults and continue to make those mistakes as they grow older. Needless to say, I had BIG issues with this book, and the fact that the COA label has been attached to it bothers me.

I’ve also heard The Catcher in the Rye described as a COA book. It’s not. Holden is definitely a young character with issues, and the book tells his story of all these experiences he has as a stupid kid – but from the way the book ends, it appears he didn’t change as a result of those events. he continues down this path of depression and angst and by the time the book is over, y0u’re wondering what the hell the point of his story was.

Anyways, all this thinking about the term COA has come about because of the book I’m reading this month for a readalong, Norwegian Wood. In all fairness, I’m only 4 chapters into it and who knows, by the end of the book I may have just fallen in love with it. But so far, I’m not so hot on it and the blurbs on the back of the book describe it as a story about one man’s romantic coming of age, or something like that (I don’t have the book in front of me). Since it’s described specificly as a “romantic” COA story, I’m assuming that’s supposed to mean that by the end of the novel he’ll have learned some overarching theme about love and relationships. Not quite sure how that’s going to work out with the women he’s involved with now, but I guess we’ll see. I don’t have high expectations.

The COA label lately seems to be attached to any literary fiction that focuses on a character from the ages of about 13-ish to late 20’s. Ideally, everybody would have some big moral ephiphany or growth as they’re growing up, but a lot don’t. Some kids just never have those big moments where they see things in a new light. Some people just aren’t that introspective, or pay little attention to the world around them. Some have epiphanies that only cement their already misguided beliefs – teenagers prone to prejudices see or experience events that only make them feel justified in their bigotry and makes it a permanent part of their personality. Not everybody has a coming of age story, and it bugs me that publishers and editorialists keep slapping the term on books just because it’s about the lives of young adults.

So yeah. I might start avoiding any novel that’s described as COA, especially if it’s newer, like written in the last decade or so. I just don’t seem to like books that the term has been applied to lately. I feel like there’s a bigger chance of the COA label being accurate if it’s more of a classic book – authors back in the day seemed more aware of the lessons and morals they were trying to impart and make clear in their books.

Sooo, what are your thoughts?

What do you think the term “coming-of-age” means?

Does COA always have to be a character’s change for the better, or does any change or growth count, even if makes them a worse person?

What are some of your favorite COA books? What about books that you don’t think should count as COA?

Let’s get this discussion rollin! I’ll be able to reply to comments and such throughout the day, thanks to my phone.

~Sarah

 

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3 comments

  1. I like a good COA story. That said, like you mentioned, there are a lot of books these days marketed as an COA that are really about whiny teenagers/twenty-somethings that do not experience personal growth whatsoever throughout the story and only literally ‘come of age’.
    I try to avoid the bad ones, but lots of fantasy series are COAs and I do love me some fantasy 😉

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  2. I agree with you. I think that COA has become broad and vague. I did think that Lola and the Boy Next Door could count, but Anna would not. I don’t really seek out COA, I prefer to be surprised.
    The Kite Runner was amazing. I loved it. It moved me to tears.

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  3. I like a good COA book, but yes, today almost any YA book is labeled as COA, even if it is not. I like when a character’s growth is well-dealt with, when you can see some development and progress and the triggers behind it. I agree with you on The Catcher in the Rye – Holden doesn’t change a bit throughout the book.

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