I always have liked the coming of age story – the character is a young person who moves through innocence into a more mature view of the world either by experiencing a life changing relationship or event, assuming responsibility or learning a lesson. Two books I read recently and one movie I saw all fall into this realm.
I’ve decided that, while all three of these stories (the film is based on a book) are coming of age pieces, they differ in each seems to tackle specific aspects of life.
Looking for Alaska by John Green. I’d heard about this book when it was first published in 2005. I heard it compared to the novel Catcher in the Rye, and if it had some of the same sardonic tone, I was curious. Miles, the central character, is sent to attend Culver Creek Preparatory School in Alabama, the alma mater of his father. Miles had been something of a loner during his first year at his local high school and when his parents suggested he go away and live at this private school he actually thought it would be a good thing. At Culver Creek he develops close friends, learns how to maneuver both the academic and social maze of the private school environment, and finds that life does goes on after loss. One of this novel’s strong points is that it’s told in first person. In my opinion, also, it’s a book that is most definitely worth a person’s time, whether he or she is 14, 40 or 80. Yes, that good. It’s coming of age emphasis is friendship and academics/school.
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Never before can I recall a book being read by such a diverse group of people (teenagers, librarians, and parents to name a few) and all of them being enthused by it. Again a strong point is it is told in first person. Central character, Katniss Everdeen from lowly District 12, is a very smart young person whose mental acuity and physical agility is brought to an extreme test. A science fiction story that blends a character’s awakening with the dynamics of a totalitarian future and the ever constant striving for individual and familial survival, the book is exciting and consistently fascinating. Its coming of age aspect is competition/survival and familial concern.
White Oleander – the film (based on the book by author, Janet Finch) This film was an eye opener, to say the least. A young girl’s relationship with a beautiful artistic unstable mother is tested when the mother is sent to jail for murdering the mother’s boyfriend. The young girl never knew her father and has no siblings or other relatives. She is placed in foster homes as well as a home for abandoned children who cannot be placed in foster care. As she begins to have experiences away from her mother’s ever watchful eye, the young girl begins to realize that her mother is a dangerous person whose strength is often used to destroy others. A painful exploration of relationship difficulties along with probing deeper truths, this story has significant impact. Its coming of age theme is relationships, trust and love.