14 Vivid Coming Of Age Novels Set In The 20th Century

Transitioning from childhood to the world of adult responsibilities has never been easy. Even before the age of social media, there were plenty of forces making teens feel inadequate, from simple family drama to seemingly insurmountable obstacles. The novels listed here, all set in the 20th century, feature relatable, three-dimensional characters learning what it means to grow up. This video was made with Ezvid Wikimaker.

Historical Coming-of-Age Books: Our 14 Picks

Title Author
1. The Pursuit of Cool Robb Skidmore
2. Hang on Nell Gavin
3. A Year in the Company of Freaks Teresa Neumann
4. Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen Susan Gregg Gilmore
5. Setting Free the Kites Alex George
6. Rich Boy Cries For Momma Ethan H. Minsker
7. Who She Is Diane Byington
8. Green Sam Graham-Felsen
9. Beautiful Music Michael Zadoorian
10. The Girl Who Slept with God Val Brelinski
11. Dog Bone Soup Bette A. Stevens
12. Monterey Bay Lindsay Hatton
13. The Tumbling Turner Sisters Juliette Fay
14. Shoes for Anthony Emma Kennedy

8 Great Films From the 20th Century

  1. Citizen Kane (1941)
  2. The Godfather (1972)
  3. City Lights (1931)
  4. Schindler's List (1993)
  5. Casablanca (1942)
  6. Psycho (1960)
  7. Pulp Fiction (1994)
  8. 12 Angry Men (1957)

Coming of Age Rituals in the Modern World

In Depth

From vaudeville in the '20s to World War II in the '40s to the punk rock scene in the '70s and '80s, plenty of noteworthy events and eras came and went during the 1900s. But one thing that hasn't changed over time is the struggle of growing up and finding a place in the world. Here, in no particular order, are fourteen vivid coming-of-age novels set in the 20th century.

Starting off at #1 is "The Pursuit of Cool" by Robb Skidmore. Lance has big dreams to keep up with his successful family, but he's distracted by music, movies, and girls. As he navigates his way through college in the '80s and struggles with his awkward social life, Lance learns more about himself and the world, experiences heartbreak, and grows as a person along the way.

#2 is "Hang On" by Nell Gavin. After falling in love with a roadie named Trevor, Holly is pulled into a '70s rock and roll tour. It's much different than the lifestyle she's used to, and the people on the road aren't like her at all. Holly is trying to hide the same mental illness that killed her mother, but as she gets closer to Trevor, it's more difficult to keep it a secret. She thinks if she finds out the reason behind her mother's suicide, she can use that information to stop herself from following the same path. But what if she can't find the answers she needs?

But what if she can't find the answers she needs?

#3 is "A Year in the Company of Freaks" by Teresa Neumann. Sid inherits his parents' farm only to grow marijuana on the land. When he's caught, his Godfather makes arrangements to keep him out of jail. One condition of the deal is that he has to rent out the house to four roommates. Living with a group of misfits, Sid must abide by the law and the judge's orders long enough to earn the rest of his inheritance and keep himself out of further trouble.

Next up at #4 is "Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen" by Susan Gregg Gilmore. Catherine Grace has always dreamed of leaving her small Georgia town as soon as she can. Once she's able, she goes to Atlanta, turning her back on family, romance, and the small strawberry jam business that earned her the cash to move. But before she can settle in, catastrophe at home brings her right back to Ringgold. As her point of view shifts, she begins to think that she might be right where she belongs after all.

#5 is "Setting Free the Kites" by Alex George. Robert begins eighth grade knowing that his torment at the hands of his bully will continue. But when a boy named Nathan jumps in between them, he ends up making a new friend. Robert and Nathan are both dealing with loss as they work at an amusement park that summer, which brings them closer together. But Nathan's crushing positivity sometimes feels like too much to bear, especially with all of the problems Robert's having at home.

But when a boy named Nathan jumps in between them, he ends up making a new friend.

#6 is "Rich Boy Cries For Momma" by Ethan H. Minsker. In this memoir, an unnamed boy is pulled into the punk rock scene of the '70s and '80s. After being bullied because of his dyslexia, he finally finds a place he can belong and meets an unlikely group of friends. But he also gets into drugs and violence. Readers follow him through a vivid depiction of the times as he wades through life and grows up along the way.

At #7 is "Who She Is" by Diane Byington. Faye has epilepsy, so when she decides to try out for track at her new school, she keeps it a secret from her mother. It turns out she's great, and she and her friend plan to run at the Boston Marathon. It's 1967, and women can't compete, but Faye needs the scholarship and won't be deterred. With a bully's car rushing toward her, Faye has a flashback that her parents tell her is just her epilepsy, but she knows better. Now she has two goals: win the marathon and reclaim her lost memories.

#8 is "Green" by Sam Graham-Felsen. David wants nothing more than to go to a private school where he won't be one of the only white kids, and he can make friends more easily. Then, he meets Marlon, a black, nerdy boy who is willing to stand up for him when he's picked on. They become fast friends and are soon hanging out all the time. As he learns more about Marlon's life, David begins to confront his own privilege.

As he learns more about Marlon's life, David begins to confront his own privilege.

#9 is "Beautiful Music" by Michael Zadoorian. Not long after Detroit's 1967 riot, Danny is beginning high school. From the pop his father introduces him to, to the rock he eventually finds on his own, music inspires and comforts Danny. It helps him through his childhood when his mother is afraid to let him roam, and his struggles with the racial changes in his city. It makes him happy and, when family tragedy strikes, it gives him something to live for.

At #10 on our list is "The Girl Who Slept with God" by Val Brelinski. Frances, Jory, and Grace are part of a family that looks wonderful from the outside. When the very religious Grace becomes pregnant and believes she is carrying the child of God, her father moves the family away to save his own reputation. Now, they're left to find their own support as their odd neighbors help them get ready for Grace to give birth.

#11 is "Dog Bone Soup" by Bette A. Stevens. Shawn is about to go away to boot camp, hoping to make a future for himself and avoid being sent to fight in Vietnam. At this turning point in his life, he looks back at his childhood, a time when his alcoholic father was more likely to spend money on booze and television than plumbing for his family's home. Shawn and his brother had to help their mother run the household, experiencing all the fun they could in between their hard work.

At this turning point in his life, he looks back at his childhood, a time when his alcoholic father was more likely to spend money on booze and television than plumbing for his family's home.

#12 is "Monterey Bay" by Lindsay Hatton. At fifteen, Margot falls for a biologist named Ed Ricketts. She becomes his sketch artist, despite being warned not to take the job. Her father, an entrepreneur, is doing business with Ricketts as well, trying to get his aid in creating an aquarium at Cannery Row. As Margot and Ricketts' relationship escalates to something outside of work, it may affect more than just the two of them.

Next at #13 is "The Tumbling Turner Sisters" by Juliette Fay. In 1919, the Turner sisters begin their career in vaudeville in order to keep their family afloat after their father loses his job. Their travels provide welcome freedom for the girls, but life on the road comes with its dangers, and it isn't easy for them to make a living. This book is inspired by the author's family history.

Finishing off our list at #14 is "Shoes for Anthony" by Emma Kennedy. In the midst of World War II, Anthony's small mining town isn't seeing much of the war. Things are mostly going the same as they always have. Anthony and the other children get into adventure and trouble on the mountain, but playtime is made difficult by Anthony's over-sized boots. His family can't afford shoes as they are struggling to get by. When a German plane crashes close to their village, it opens Anthony's, and the rest of the town's, eyes to a bigger set of problems.