The 4 coming-of-age memoirs you need to read
“Catcher in the Rye.” “To Kill A Mockingbird.” “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”
We can all probably name our favorite coming-of-age novels, which explore through fiction what it means to grow up. Perhaps lesser-known are the best real-life stories of that often-rocky transition from youth to adulthood, a topic about which author Tom Perrotta happens to know something.
Perrotta has written seven novels, including “Election,” “Little Children” and “The Leftovers,” all of which have been adapted for film or TV. Though he writes fiction, each book Perrotta has written has tracked the stage of life he was then in.
“I don’t often write about myself or people I know, but I do write about the life passage that I’m going through,” Perrotta told NewsHour correspondent Jeffrey Brown in a recent interview. “And it helps in a way because I’m very close to it when I’m writing, so it’s not seen through that mist of nostalgia.”
Now, Perrotta is out with a new coming-of-age tale, “Mrs. Fletcher,” about a mother and her son who’s gone off to college, and the sexual boundaries both explore. Below, Perrotta shares his favorite coming-of-age memoirs, in his own words:
“This Boy’s Life: A Memoir” by Tobias Wolff
I love books that combine humor and pathos, and Wolff’s memoir manages this balancing act with unusual grace. It’s the story of a boy who outwits an abusive stepfather, and finds his calling as a writer in the process.
“Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” by Alison Bechdel
The source of the excellent Broadway musical, Bechdel’s graphic novel about growing up and coming out is introspective and sophisticated, but also enormously entertaining. Anyone who thinks graphic novels aren’t “literature” should check this out.
“Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood” by Trevor Noah
One of my favorite books in recent memory, Noah’s account of his mixed-race childhood in apartheid South Africa (where he was literally “illegal,” according to that country’s absurd racial laws) is full of amazing anecdotes and hilarious digressions. Like “This Boy’s Life,” it’s a story of resilience and escape.
“The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts” by Maxine Hong Kingston
A remarkable hybrid of memoir and folktale, Maxine Hong Kingston’s meditation on her ancestors and her Chinese-American childhood is like no other book I’ve read. It’s a daring work of literature and a classic immigrant tale, playful and deeply thoughtful at the same time.
Soon on the NewsHour, watch correspondent Jeffrey Brown’s full interview with Tom Perrotta on “Mrs. Fletcher.”