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Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

Poll: What’s the best coming-of-age book?

Lucy Atkinson
Four quadrants display symbols from four famous coming-of-age books: “Looking for Alaska,” “The Perks of being a Wallflower,” “The Catcher in the Rye,” and “The Outsiders.” Which coming-of-age book is best? (Lucy Atkinson | Northern Star)

Coming-of-age books are a quintessential part of literature. They help inspire many generations of readers and writers. 

Coming-of-age is a genre that attempts to convey how problems commonly affect young people. This is often done in a real and relatable way young adults can relate to.  

Most of these books follow a similar formula of a young person and their group of friends engaging in life and all its adventures. But each has its unique feel and sentiment. 

“Looking For Alaska”

“Looking for Alaska” is a 2005 novel by John Green. It springboarded Green’s career which has been one of the most prolific of this generation. 

The novel follows Miles “Pudge” Halter as he attends a boarding school, Culver Creek Preparatory. He sparks a friendship with his roommate Chip “The Colonel” Martin who introduces him to Takumi Hikohito and Alaska Young. This is the group of friends the audience gets to know as the book plays out. We witness their dynamic as friends and their shenanigans create a relatable feeling of youth and excitement. 

After a character’s death, the story begins to focus largely on grief, especially how their death affected those around them. 

The book is a fantastic depiction of the way young people handle trauma, and seeing Miles and the rest of the friend group process their pain and, by the end of the book, find some peace, is incredibly powerful. 

“The Perks of Being a Wallflower” 

“The Perks of Being A Wallflower” is a 1999 novel written by Stephen Chbosky. It initially gained a cult following and is recognized as one of the most popular young adult novels of all time. 

The story follows 15-year-old Charlie through his first year of high school as he befriends and has adventures with a group of seniors. Everything in the narrative is written in letter form, from Charlie to “Dear Friend.” 

Charlie’s story sees everything from his first experiences with weed and relationships, to witnessing his sister in an abusive relationship and coming to terms with repressed memories of his abuse. The book highlights the highs and lows someone can experience and how important love and friendship can be in working through traumas. 

It covers multiple themes such as drug use, sexual assault, sexuality, friendship and mental health issues. It’s an incredibly beautiful book that does a great job capturing what it’s like to be young and the joy and pain that come with that stage of life. 

“The Catcher in The Rye” 

“The Catcher in The Rye” is a 1951 novel by J.D. Salinger. It is one of the most famous and critically acclaimed “coming-of-age” novels and has a legacy that allows it to remain relevant more than 70 years after its release. 

The novel follows Holden Caulfield’s weekend after being expelled from Pencey Preparatory Academy as he avoids going home and facing his parents. Caulfield is one of the most iconic and important characters in literature and is a prime example of a ‘coming-of-age’ protagonist. 

“The Catcher in The Rye” explores themes of angst, superficiality, identity and more through Caulfield’s perspective. He depicts the world around him cynically as he shuffles through the settings of prep school, New York and his own house located in the city. Caulfield tells of activities he engages in, from almost hiring a prostitute to sneaking back to his house to visit his little sister. Most of the events of the story are rather mundane, but Caulfield’s unique perspective makes the book an interesting read.

This book is as good as it is influential. It’s one of the most unique works of literature ever written and without it, the “coming-of-age” subgenre of books would not exist in the same way it does today. 

“The Outsiders” 

“The Outsiders” is a 1967 novel written by S.E Hinton. It is one of the most celebrated and widely recognized “coming-of-age” books ever. 

The book follows “Ponyboy” Curtis and his group of friends. The plot of the novel is built around two gangs in the book, Greasers and Socs. Ponyboy and his group of friends are Greasers and often get into conflicts with the Socs.In one of these conflicts, Ponyboy accidentally kills a Soc. This death is the inciting incident to the rest of the story, which builds up to an ultimate rumble between the two gangs, and then describes its aftermath. 

It is a fantastic book that shows themes of gang violence, family dysfunction, friendship and much more. It is especially impressive, considering how young Hinton was while writing it, only 17-years-old

This novel has captivated audiences for years since its publication. Thanks to its balance of interesting characters and situations, as well as Hinton’s skillful writing, it will continue to be impactful for many years to come.

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What's the best coming-of-age book?


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Results of last week’s poll: If you could learn a second language, what would it be?

Spanish — 36%

French — 21%

German — 15%

Mandarin — 9%

Japanese — 18%

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