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Chapter 14 - The Age of Innocence

Coming of age stories are, no doubt, as old as time itself. I suspect every generation, dating back to even Neanderthals, has experienced difficulty in making the transition from childhood to adult life. So what is a coming of age story? Generally it has the components of a loss of innocence, a journey, transformation and personal growth of some sort, and a change of perspective. If you ever read Catcher In the Rye or To Kill A Mockingbird in school, you have read a coming of age story. A reader can go all the way back to Charlotte Bronte, Charles Dickens, or Mark Twain to find excellent stories that fit this genre.

While there have been three notable coming of age stories lately, (The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles, This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger, and Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens), I have found that Southern writers are especially adept at writing these stories. Here are some of the best of the lot.

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd - In 1964 Lily Owens has only a memory of the day her mother was killed. She and her stand-in mother Rosaleen travel to Tiburon, South Carolina, a place important to Lily's mother. There she meets up with a trio of black women who teach her what female empowerment is all about.

Bells for Eli by Susan Zurenda - First cousins Eli and Delia grow up across the street from each other, bonded in a way few cousins are when a childhood accident make Delia Eli's protector from that time forward. As Eli grows, while his body heals externally, his need to fit in grows and takes him into perilous relationships. Delia's love and friendship lead the way to unveil family secrets. We are lucky enough to have the author, Susan Zurenda, visit us on April 8 from 4 to 6PM to tell us more about her award winning book.

Under the Magnolias by T.I. Lowe - Young teenage, Austin Foster, is charged with taking care of her younger siblings when her mother dies in childbirth. Her father, a tobacco farmer and pastor, deals with devils of his own and so Austin finds herself relying on some colorful characters for support. This is a novel of grace, hope, and redemption.

Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons - A debut novel by celebrated author Kaye Gibbons, Ellen is an eleven year old who tells her story with honesty, perceptiveness, and humor. As Ellen struggles to find a home within the foster system, she becomes a true heroine.

Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison - An oldie but a goodie, Bastard Out of Carolina, published in 2012, tells the story of Bone, a bastard girl growing up in Greenville County, South Carolina. As Bone (real name Ruth Anne Boatwright) grows and fights off vicious encounters with her stepfather, the story culminates in a way that family loyalties are tested.

The Member of The Wedding by Carson McCullers - This was one of the first "coming of age" stories I ever read. Young Frankie is bored until she finds out that her older brother is getting married. She takes a overly active role in the wedding planning and plans to go, uninvited, on the honeymoon. This is a terrific story of someone trying to find her place in the world.

Are there any coming of age stories you would suggest? Please share!


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