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These lesser known coming-of-age novels with interesting female protagonists are not only for teenage girls, they’re for everyone. How many of these have you read?
Growing up can be hard. In fact, it usually is hard. I had quite a privileged childhood but the process of growing up is still hard (maybe that actually makes it harder because I am used to being such a baby).
I say, “is”, because I still have a lot of growing up to do. I mean, do we ever really stop? But there is a particular stage of growing up that is exceptionally difficult, the time when we are teenagers – when we flop like unsuccessful amphibians trying to breathe on both land and water but failing to do so. This is the time when we might face circumstances that causes us to dig deep within us for the strength that we didn’t know we had, and at some point in this journey, we can say that we grow up, leave childhood behind, come-of-age.
Novels that portray this journey well, in all its complexities are not easy to come by, especially when the journey is that of a girl. But some novels do manage to do just that. No two people have the exact same coming-of-age story, that’s why I’ve tried to compile a list of novels with protagonists who have very different tales of how they came-of-age. Yet, at their core, the theme is the same – growing up.
by Randa Abdel-Fatta
Teasing can be funny. Or it can be a menace. It’s something that most of us went through during our gawky teenage years. This novel deals with standing by your decision even when others mock you for it. It’s about the importance of being true to yourself.
When sixteen-year-old Amal decides to wear the hijab full-time, everyone reacts – some in really bad ways. Randa Abdel-Fatta does a great job of showing us what Amal goes through without descending into the usual Muslim girl stereotypes. It should be read for a different perspective on the choice to wear the hijab as well as the concept of a teenage girl being true to herself.
Buy a copy on Flipkart, Amazon India, Amazon US
by Isabel Quintero
This is a stunning novel that addresses several problems faced by teenage girls from drug abuse to assault to body image issues to heartbreak. It also sensitively portrays a struggle we all probably have at some point in our coming-of-age years – reconciling our parents’ values with what we want with regard to our sexuality.
I strongly recommend it if you want a novel that puts you through a rollercoaster of emotions and then makes you feel more mature when you’re done.
by Leslye Walton
Naïve as we start off, we soon learn that the world is not always be a beautiful place to live in. Ava Lavender, an otherwise normal girl, is born with wings like a bird. She struggles to fit in with her peers – something most of us go through even without wings. She meets people with twisted motives and others who mistake her for an angel.
This novel follows Ava as she navigates the dangerous path of what it means to be human. Ultimately, the novel ends with Ava overcoming adversities and gives us, the readers hope that life is worth it no matter what.
by Nancy Garden
This is a ground-breaking book on two teenage girls who whose friendship blossoms into love.
As a book published in 1982, this lesbian coming-of-age novel was one of a kind in those days because it had a happy ending. It has very satisfying melodrama and ending with the last sentence being, “I love you, too!”. The fact that it paved the way for many more LGBT young adult novels is worth noting too. All in all, a very fulfilling read.
by Julie Anne Peters
Told from the perspective of sixteen-year-old Regan who keeps her older sister Luna’s secret, Luna is a beautiful tale of self-acceptance and standing your ground.
Luna is a trans-woman who fights for the right to be whoever she wants to be – the person she believes she was meant to be – even with not-very-tolerant parents. Alongside her, Regan discovers the person she wants to be, learns to think more of herself, and also learns to stand up for herself. We should all learn to unabashedly be whoever we want to be as we grow up and to fight for it if we have to.
by Angela Carter
Melanie and her two siblings lose their parents to a plane crash quite close to the beginning of the novel. This is the catalyst for Melanie to start growing up, as they all move to live with and take care of their tyrannical uncle Philip, a maker of puppets and toys. As we read this brilliant novel, we become aware of ourselves, our environment, and our sexualities along with Melanie – going through her highs and lows with her.
by Mitali Perkins
Family is hardly ever easy. You Bring the Distant Near follows a Bengali family as they move to New York City. The story of five women across three generations, this novel explores emotions and relationships – including love, sisterhood, friendship, and the inheritance of culture – with a magnifying glass. All of the women characters created by Mitali Perkins are complex, flawed, and interesting. The fact that the tale is intimately relatable though maybe not directly just adds to the allure of the book.
by Nadia Hashimi
The cover of this novel says, “Sometimes, hiding can set you free.” In a nutshell, the novel examines the complexities of hiding your gender identity. Obayda, the protagonist is chosen to be a bacha posh (a cultural practice in parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, in which some families without sons choose to raise one of their daughters as a son). This obviously gives her the privileges that boys have in her society but what does it truly mean to be a girl or a boy? The novel addresses this question in an intriguing way.
by Jane Rule
Narrated in epistolary form, this novel is self-consciously both literary and philosophical. A young woman writes a letter – an unsent one – to a lover who was never quite a lover. Set in London and New York in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the voice of the narrator comes through strong and affecting as she negotiates her lesbian sexuality. It should definitely be read by everyone because exploring our sexuality through obstacles is something we all experience.
Buy a copy on Amazon India, Amazon US
by Shilpa Gupta
As an Indian Science student, the terrible pressure to get into IIT is something that I have faced and it really sucks! That’s why I could relate to Ananya who really wants to get into IIT. Studies are her top priority. But a huge roadblock crops up in the form of a teenage pregnancy, and the handsome father of her unborn child who pulled her into a whirlwind romance, is now unsupportive. What happens when one’s plan is messed up by unforeseen circumstances? The story deals with themes of romance, friendship, family, betrayal, and loss. But it ends on a hopeful note with Ananya discovering that maybe she wanted something different from her original plans after all.
This book is a good read for everybody but especially for Indian students who are caught between their teenage desires and their education.
by Sara Zarr
Sara Zarr has come up with believable and unique characters with depth and nuance to populate her realistic novel. It has two female protagonists – Jill and Mandy. Jill is isolating herself from everyone after her father’s death and Mandy who is pregnant, wants a better life for her baby than she had. An honest story, it is told from their distinct perspectives but both have an undercurrent of someone who is lost. Being lost is a huge part of coming-of-age and the way this novel deals with it is amazing!
by Amjed Qatar
One of the most important relationships in a teenage girl’s life is that which she has with her mother. This novel investigates that relationship in detail. Nazia has to grow up extra fast to provide for her family after tragedy strikes – giving up school to work as a maid. How Nazia does that while facing the looming possibility of marriage and her mother’s vision of how her life should be, forms the story.
Beautifully written, this novel offers its readers a painful and stirring look into the life of a girl who does not have very many choices but does have great inner strength.
by Rebecca Stead
As it tells a tender and intricate story about the changing nature of friendship, betrayal, and remorse, this novel keeps you guessing till the end. Girls’ friendships are often stereotypically thought of as inferior to boys’ friendships. In the light of that, this novel is a breath of fresh air. Not only does it portray positive girls’ friendships, it also portrays healthy boy-girl relationships and strong family. Bridge, Tabitha, and Emily are best friends who explore new and strange feelings as they grow older, all the while remaining connected and supportive of each other. There is also a superbly handled subplot in which Emily and a boy get in trouble for sending each other suggestive text messages.
Overall, a great novel to read, about friendship and relationships with boys among other things.
by Nidhi Chanani
Pashmina follows Priyanka Das (nicknamed Pri) as she tries to find the answers to her many questions about her family’s past that her mother refuses to answer. She finds a magic Pashmina which transports to a vivid and colourful world but a dark secret lurks in the background as she ventures to find the family she never knew. A heart-warming graphic novel about hardship and self-discovery that tells a tale that was born out of juggling two cultures, this is a lovely read for everyone.
by Padma Venkatraman
Following the life of fifteen-year-old Vidya as it is turned upside down, this novel is a remarkable debut for Padma Venkatraman. She breathes life into all of her characters, especially her protagonist who seems a little too naïve at the beginning but later turns into a delightful character that we care about. When her forward-thinking father is injured by the British police, Vidya is forced to abandon her dreams of going to college and instead, has to go live with her with her grandfather’s traditional family which believes in stereotypical roles for women. The title refers to Vidya climbing the stairs to her grandfather’s library which is forbidden to her – it’s her safe place. This is where she meets Raman, her future love interest and a man who appreciates her intellectual curiosity.
But it’s not all perfect just because you’re in love. This novel offers an unromanticised view of what it feels like to live and love in a male-dominated society. Read this novel if you like an honest look at things.
by Savita Kalhan
Written in plain and straightforward language, The Girl in the Broken Mirror tells it like it is. It captures the essence of what the protagonist – Jay a.k.a Jayalakshmi Sharma – is feeling very clearly. Savita Kalhan manages to make this story of a rape survivor simultaneously heart-breaking and amazing! Jay, a British Indian kid who had a liberal childhood, moves to live with some really conservative rich relatives who believe that girls should behave a certain way. The cultural clash in this situation is brought out extremely well. Another thing the novel gets right, is its awesome depiction of a mother-daughter relationship in all its complexities.
This young adult novel is powerfully insightful in its treatment of rape – it examines how rape makes the survivor feel, how it complicates relationships, and victim blaming mindsets in a patriarchal setting. But ultimately, the novel is also about surviving and getting through things that might leave us feeling shattered. This novel tells an important story for everyone, one that talks about the consequences for rape and sexual assault/abuse.
Image source: pixabay
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