There’s an argument to be made that all Young Adult books are technically Coming of Age, but it’s a tougher argument to make if you’ve read a lot of it. Because in truth, there’s a very real subgenre that takes a deft hand at truly exploring the turning points on either end of adolescence, and those events that push us to grow up.
While some of my favorites of those titles have hit bestseller lists, turned into movies and/or TV shows, or won awards, there are plenty of coming of age young adult books that haven’t gotten all the love I think they deserve. So if you’ve already read and loved books like Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, and Piecing Me Together, here are seven more to help you relive the magic and misery of the teen years.
For my money, Riley Redgate is one of the most interesting authors in YA, always doing something I haven’t seen before. This happens to be my favorite of hers, and yes, that might be because it stars an anxious teen writer, and okay, maybe that resonated a little! It stars Laila Pedra, a biracial (white on her mother’s side and Ecuadorian on her father’s) plus-size pansexual girl who loses her beloved creative writing teacher and finds herself at a loss.
When he’s replaced by a teacher who seems impossible to impress, Laila explores just how much she’s willing to bleed on the page for validation. It sounds cliché, but I laughed, I cried, and I swooned (there’s a fun “who’s going to end up being the love interest here?” and I was definitely not disappointed), and if I hadn’t already read Redgate’s backlist, this definitely would’ve sent me there.
The Revolution of Birdie Randolph
Colbert is a master of coming-of-age novels, including this sorely underrated one starring a girl named Birdie who’s always done what’s expected of her, until she falls for the “wrong” guy. She knows Booker is absolutely worthy of her affection, and he becomes a very welcome escape when her mother’s estranged sister, Carlene, comes for a visit and throws Birdie’s home life into upheaval.
Like Booker, Carlene has a complicated past, but it doesn’t stop Birdie from getting closer to either of them. Then she learns they aren’t the only ones with secretive histories, forcing her to reassess who she is, what she wants, where she comes from, and where she’s going.
As Far As You'll Take Me
Coming-of-age novels aren’t always page-turners, but I flew through Stamper’s sophomore novel, about a gay boy named Marty who’s heading to London for the summer…or at least that’s what he’s told his strict religious parents.
In reality, Marty plans to leave his small Kentucky town behind for good, using his oboe skills to land a career in music. But of course, things rarely go as planned when you haven’t in fact made a real plan, and what Marty finds is a boy who both steals his heart and shakes his confidence while his anxiety ratchets up and he finds himself so distant from everyone at home that he’s not sure how he’d return even if he wanted to. Discussions of body dysmorphia and toxic friendships make this a heavier read than you might be expecting, but the book is all the richer for it.
The Truth Is
This heartrending sophomore novel stars Verdad, a fifteen-year-old Puerto Rican girl who’s struggling with both the death of her best friend and parents (single mom and absentee dad) who are definitely not making her life any easier. Then, a bright spot: Danny, the new kid at school, who’s the first calming presence in Verdad’s life in a while.
Her strong attraction to him is yet another thing that feeds into Verdad’s self-examination and development as she already contemplates racism and police brutality—what does it mean for a questioning girl to date a trans guy?—but he’s also someone to fight for (whether her mother likes it or not), and someone who’ll fight for her, too.
How to Be Remy Cameron
Empire Records was one of my favorite movies growing up, bookstores are among my favorite places on Earth, and the way Julian Winters writes the pains of growing up, exploring your identity, and falling in love is one of the most delightful things in YA literature.
So it’s an absolute gimme that his newest novel, which mashes up all of the above with the story of a boy staring down the future and not sure where it’s going, would be one of my faves as well.
You Don't Live Here
There’s only one correct way to pitch this book, as far as I’m concerned, and it’s “If Rory Gilmore were bisexual and moved in with Richard and Emily after Lorelei died in an earthquake.” Our Rory is Sasha Bloom, who’s just lost the most important person in her world and is promptly groomed by her parents to turn into the daughter they always wanted.
But Sasha doesn’t fall deeply for either the boy or life of their choosing. How can she, when she’s met the far more interesting, exciting, and free-spirited Lily? But Sasha’s grandparents are all she has left, which means making a choice between the person she wants her to be and the person they expect her to be.
The Education of Margot Sanchez
Rivera’s been wildly prolific since this debut, with everything from a Middle Grade graphic novel series to an upcoming Latinx Sci-Fi. But while this book definitely does have some of the readership it deserves, I always thought it should have a bigger piece of the audience—fans of Erika Sanchez’s bestselling I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter should definitely grab this one as well.
Margot’s family does well through their grocery store in the Bronx, but that isn’t enough to help her fit in at her primarily white school. When she goes too far to blend with them, she ends up working at the grocery to pay her parents back, and learns a lot more about the people and neighborhood she’s been trying so hard to distance herself from.