The coming-of-age novel… the fascination ever beckons. What makes up the allure? Is it nostalgia? Is it gratitude for being years away from the vicissitudes of the teen experience? Is it the particular kind of drama that belongs to that particular time of life?
Regardless of the whys, I have found myself reading several novels with young protagonists lately. They all have been on the darkish side of fiction, but for me, that merely adds to the drama and fascination. The protagonists are also very bright young women who are misfits in one way or another.
My most recent read, Special Topics in Calamity Physics, by Marisha Pessl (and is that not a completely terrific title?) is the story of Blue Van Meer, who has spent her childhood traveling with her brilliant academic father all around the United States. They fetch up in a small North Carolina town for her senior year of high school, where her dad goes out of his way to give Blue an opulent year by renting a mansion and sending her to an exclusive school. A crazy, enigmatic teacher draws Blue into a twisted, dark plot involving a school clique and the Carolina mountains. This is a long and complex novel that I thoroughly enjoyed.
In Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep, Lee Fiora leaves the Midwest to attend high school at an elite Eastern boarding school. One of the tragic plot arcs of the story is watching Lee realize that she has come from an environment where she was extraordinary and is now finding her way in a setting in which she has become so ordinary she is practically invisible. Lee becomes an observer rather than an actor, and gives a view of the school and its people from the outside looking in. The dialogue and situations are spot-on, so much so that it is quite painful to share in Lee’s experience. The writing is sharp and vivid, which makes this novel both tense and fascinating.
You could read The Catcher in the Rye again, or you could bask in the light of these other young voices.
Other novels featuring young protagonists include:
All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith