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Growing Up Is For Life, Not Just Young Adults: Five Essential Coming of Age Tales

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Timothy Tierney and Alex Jameson found this witty
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Getting older is inevitable. It's something every single one of us has to deal with, yet it remains a profoundly personal experience. Often it can seem like nobody really understands what you're going through. But no matter what you are feeling, those feelings matter.

That's why coming of age tales are so valuable. We are all of us continually growing. Regardless what age you are, there's something to be gained from reflecting on this transition.

Whether you're a teenager trying to navigate a regularly hostile world or have long since left those years behind you, these five wonderful novels offer a glimpse into coming of age, providing powerful insight throughout each distinct journey.

The Miner

Sometimes growing up means burrowing deep inside yourself for answers. In this case it means literally burrowing underground. First published over a century ago in 1908, everything about Nastume Soseki's The Miner captures the essence of what it's like to feel trapped and alone.

After a failed relationship, the novel's nineteen-year-old protagonist runs away from home and takes the first job he can find: copper miner. It's only through the horrors of this intense labour – gruelling, lengthy hours in a dark, sweltering cave system – that he begins to realise the value of what he was so desperate to leave behind.

The Miner is translated from the Japanese by Jay Rubin, Haruki Murakami's long-time translator. Incidentally, Murakami praises The Miner as one of his absolute favourite novels.

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The Goblin Emperor

Being unexpectedly thrust into a position of responsibility is enough to make anybody question their competence. But to be thrust into the position of Emperor of the Elflands is more than Maia – the narrator of Katherine Addison's addictive fantasy novel The Goblin Emperor – can bear.

After the tragic death of his father and half-brothers in an airship crash, Maia is forced into a world not only unfamiliar to him, but one in which he isn't even sure he belongs, thanks to his mixed Elven and Goblin heritage. For this reason alone, whole regions of the kingdom are desperate to see him fail.

The Goblin Emperor proves that coming of age stories don't have to be bound by reality in order to provide wisdom and inspiration, nor do they have to be limited in scope. Weighty themes like race, politics and familial obligation permeate this terrific tale, as Addison's gorgeous prose sparks with life.

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Black Sabbath

Each book in the 33 1/3 series sets out to explore an iconic music album. Most of these books are non-fiction, yet musician John Darnielle chooses to examine Black Sabbath's third release Master Of Reality through the lens of fiction. What results is something remarkably touching.

Roger Painter is a fifteen-year-old who is swept away from his home life in California due to behavioural difficulties and locked in an adolescent psychiatric centre. All he manages to bring is his cassette player and favourite tapes, both of which are confiscated immediately upon his arrival at the facility.

Enraged by the insinuation that music could be in some way detrimental to his health, he writes a series of passionate letters to the centre's staff, pleading for the return of the only thing in his life that makes him feel truly sane.

Somehow, Darnielle manages to put into words music's incredible ability to empower and restore a person's spirit, and how much it can mean to those who are struggling. 

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Cat's Eye

In Cat's Eye, Margaret Atwood paints a searingly honest account of childhood bullying. Following a trip back to her childhood home in Toronto, artist Elaine Risley reminisces about life growing up and the friends who simultaneously meant the world to her and tore her world apart.

When Elaine's parents take her travelling during summer break, she returns to school after four months to meet Cordelia, a new member of her circle of friends. But this shift in dynamic causes sudden, unexpected cruelty from the people to whom she once felt closest.

There are moments when reading Cat's Eye is like staring through a window, revealing experiences so raw that they transcend the boundaries of fiction. It's through this rawness that Atwood acknowledges just how formative such traumatic childhood encounters can be.

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Black Swan Green

Author David Mitchell claims that he'd “probably still be avoiding the subject” of his speech impediment today if he hadn't opened up about it “by writing a semi-autobiographical novel . . . narrated by a stammering thirteen-year-old”. When you're a teenager, self-esteem can be in low enough supply as is without having to deal with fears of being different to your peers.

Set in the 1980s, Black Swan Green examines a slice of Jason Taylor's life – thirteen months, to be exact – as he attempts to cope not only with his stammer, but everything else a young teenager has to worry about; like who to hang out with, what to wear and how best to express himself (in a way that won't result in even more bullying).

The time spent inside Jason's head is an absolute pleasure, as Mitchell's earnest prose bursts at the seams with references to a bygone age, yet never comes across as dated.

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Content writer from Northern Ireland. Commonly found reading, sitting firmly in a seat at the cinema (bottle of water and a Freddo bar, please) or listening to the Mountain Goats.

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