Feel Good Nonfiction Reads

How’s your blood pressure? Edging up a little, like everyone else’s? Are you feeling overwhelmed by the daily news? We all could use some reading material that will buoy us right about now. I have put together a list for just this purpose. I’m sticking to nonfiction for now, out of a personal desire to remember the positives in the real world. Some of these books contain tragic elements, but also the overcoming of such. Here are a dozen titles I hope will comfort, inspire, amuse and make you feel better about the world.

x400The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba. My son told me this was the most inspiring book he’s ever read. Possibly the world’s most resourceful teenager builds a windmill from scraps he’s foraged and brings electricity to his village in Malawi.


Grandma Gatewood's WalkGrandma Gatewood’s Walk by Ben Montgomery. The story of an average woman who decided to do something with herself after leaving an abusive marriage. She liked to walk. Long story short, we can thank her for the preservation of the Appalachian Trail.


theboysintheboatThe Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. I never would have picked up this book if it had not been chosen for our community-wide reading selection a few years ago. Now I recommend it to everyone. If you’re in the mood for a tale of overcoming adversity to achieve something great through the virtues of teamwork and cooperation, this book is for you.

vgl_heroVery Good Lives by J.K. Rowling. A small volume containing the Harry Potter author’s commencement speech on the benefits of failure.




The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio by Terry Ryan. The subtitle for this is “How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less.” If we could bestow posthumous Nevertheless She Persisted prizes, Evelyn Ryan would surely qualify. A genius at advertising jingles, she kept her family in laundry detergent, appliances and adequate housing  by winning contest after contest.

9781250057839All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot. Funny and (mostly) affirming anecdotes from the life of a country veterinarian. There are a few sequels if this one leaves you wanting more.



outcastsppbk-smOutcasts United by Warren St. John Refugee youths from disparate backgrounds come together to form an American soccer team.



41lxckpvall-_ac_us218_Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit. Why there’s still hope.




The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman. Even curmudgeons need something uplifting occasionally.


Lunarb9781449479930_frontcover-tmbaboon by Chris Grady. Cartoons depicting the life of a woke moon monkey dad.




She Got Up Off the Couch by Haven Kimmel. I laughed. I cried. I cheered, as the author’s mother fights her way out of the depression that kept her glued to the couch for years and overcomes every obstacle to make a better life for herself.


51hli3qtxcl-_sx358_bo1204203200_Dear Data by Giorgia Lupi. Where art, friendship and data all merge, you’ll find this book.





Fathers in Memoir and Fiction

I meant to have this done and posted yesterday, but life had other plans for me. Squeaking in just before Father’s Day is over, I present you with a list of books featuring dads.

Beautiful Boy by David Sheff. In this memoir, Sheff speaks about the pain of having meth as a rival for his son’s devotion. He questions his parenting. He sees his hopes raised and dashed repeatedly. And then there’s the effect on his other kids. As any parent of more than one child can tell you, any decision you make for one has ramifications for the others.

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. Eggers is a brother who filled a father’s role. He was only 21 when his father and mother both succumbed to cancer within a few weeks of each other, leaving Dave in charge of his 8-year-old brother. This memoir had me laughing and crying, often at the same time.

Love in the Driest Season by Neely Tucker. Neely Tucker, a white American journalist, recounts the story of how he and his black wife, Vita, relocated to Zimbabwe, where they volunteered at an orphanage and fell in love with a little girl who they believed might have AIDS.

Plainsong by Kent Haruf. Written in spare, but beautiful prose, this novel introduces us to small town high school teacher, Tom Guthrie, who is raising his two sons by himself. Meanwhile, he’s dealing with a student who bullies, a student who is pregnant, fellow teacher Maggie Jones, and wait – how do two bachelor farmer brothers come into this picture? Read and find out.

Shit My Dad Says by Justin Halpern. What started as a Twitter account turned into one of the funniest memoirs I have ever read. At 28, Halpern lost his job and moved back in with his 73-year-old dad.  “Remember when you used to make fun of me for being bald?…No, I’m not gonna make a joke. I’ll let the mirror do that.” People who get the vapors over cursing should avoid it. Despite being extremely salty, Halpern’s dad does seem to have his son’s best interests at heart, in the end.

Silas Marner by George Eliot. In today’s world, Silas Marner would never be approved to adopt a child. But in Eliot’s novel, the reclusive miser turns out to be a pretty good father to the little girl who wanders into his life. Father and daughter both learn love really is more important than money.

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley. In this novel, the setting is a Midwest family farm in the 1970s. But the seemingly average Cook family is living out a 20th-century version of Shakespeare’s King Lear, complete with the division of the estate, the exile of one daughter, the love triangles and the onset of patriarchal madness.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Atticus Finch is one of the greatest literary fathers of all time. He is wise and kind and understanding of his children, while holding expectations of the same behavior from them. Then there’s his courage in standing up for the underdog. “Truth, justice and the American Way” – Superman, or Superdad Atticus Finch?

The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig. This novel, set in 1909 Montana, is narrated by the oldest of widower Oliver Milliron’s three boys. Their father hires a housekeeper through a newspaper ad, a housekeeper who brings along a character of a brother, and a mystery.

Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell. Though Ree Dolly’s father is more talked about than shown, the reader certainly comes to know a lot about him. The things we find out right way are: he has drug charges pending against him, he has put up the family home as bond, and he can’t be found. It’s up to 16-year-old Ree to find him and thus save the home.

Book List: Mothers in Fiction and Memoir

For Mother’s Day, a list of some books featuring moms:

American Mom by Mary Kay Blakely. The former Ms. Magazine editor’s memoir of raising her two boys. It’s insightful, touching and real. I once heard Blakely tell a funny story about this book’s title. She said she wanted to call it “Raising Terrorists,” but bowed to her publisher’s wishes and called it “American Mom” instead. One day, running late to a book signing, she was pulled over for speeding, and had to explain to the police officer how she was on her way to sign copies of her book American Mom. At that moment, she said, she realized how smart it was to listen to your publisher.

Beloved by Toni Morrison. In this post-Civil War novel, a lost soul reappears. Sethe, a former slave, is consumed with mourning for the young daughter who died years earlier. One day, the daughter’s spirit arrives on Sethe’s doorstep in the form of a young woman. Through her we see the ghosts of slavery are not easily banished.

Black and Blue by Anna Quindlen. How do you report spousal abuse when the spouse who beats you is a police officer? You don’t. You pack up your son and sneak away with him, doing your best to build new identities and become untrackable. I think this novel has one of the best endings I’ve ever read. Not tidy, though.

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen. The mother in this novel, Enid Lambert, comes to a realization: “What you discovered about yourself in raising children wasn’t always agreeable or attractive.” Still, Enid dreams of one last family Christmas with their three grown children before the health of her husband, Alfred, declines too much. Their kids’ lives are falling apart in different ways, and Enid’s campaign to bring them together reveals the weaknesses and the strengths of their family ties. There are power struggles galore but also acts of incredible love and self-sacrifice, which gives them a lot in common with many real-life families.

The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacqueline Mitchard. Why did I read this novel when my children were young? Do not read this if you have young children. Read this if your children are big or you have no children. A very busy mom loses one of her three kids. Poof – he vanishes. It’s a good book, a compelling read. Disturbing if your kids are near the age of the one who disappears.

Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler. This was the first Anne Tyler novel I ever read. What I love about Tyler’s characters is how close they come to self-awareness without ever quite arriving. Pearl raises three children on her own after her husband leaves, a piece of trivia she neglects to mention to the children. He is traveling salesman, and the youngsters go on for a while thinking he’s simply away on business. The three kids grow up with a fair amount of sibling rivalry and do their best to create the next generation of family messiness.

I Been in Sorrow’s Kitchen and Licked Out All the Pots by Susan Strait. Upon her mother’s death in 1959, teenager Marietta Cook – tall and strong and blue black – leaves her home in Pine Garden, South Carolina, a place forgotten by time. She heads to Charleston to seek her future. The novel follows her life through the birth and raising of twin boys, right into grandmotherhood.

Juno’s Daughters by Lise Saffron. A mom and her two daughters who live on an island in Washington state find a summer of interaction with Shakespearean actors transformative.

Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson. There was more to Shirley Jackson than making us confront our worst natures. This memoir of life with her children and husband is laugh out loud funny. It is several decades old, however, so be prepared to cringe over all of the smoking and the lack of seatbelts.

Mother on Fire by Sandra Tsing Loh. This memoir will resonate with any mother who has found herself drowning in navigating the waters of kindergarten enrollment. Though it’s not quite so treacherous where I live. You will laugh as you recognize yourself and other parents in the anecdotes she recounts.

Operating Instructions by Anne Lamott. Lamott’s memoir of her first year of motherhood. She speaks truth in ways most of us are too wimpy to. Also, she’s very witty.

Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin’s. This is the tale of an elderly woman who vanishes one day from a Seoul train platform. From the first pages, it’s apparent Mom has been gradually disappearing for years, as her children have grown busy with their own lives and her husband has paid her little attention.

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio by Terry Ryan. Terry Ryan’s memoir is a tribute to her resourceful mother. While her alcoholic husband invested his wages in liquid assets, Evelyn Ryan kept her family of 12 afloat by composing advertising jingles for contests as she did the ironing. She converted her facility for language into money, cars, appliances and grocery shopping sprees while bequeathing her children the legacy of a can-do spirit.

Room by Emma Donoghue. This novel introduces us to a mother struggling to survive in extraordinary circumstances. Five-year-old Jack has spent his entire life in one room, just he and Ma, who makes sure Jack exercises, learns to read and eats the vegetables Old Nick brings on his otherwise unwelcome visits.

Shadow Tag by Louise Erdrich. Not until the end of this novel do you discover who the real narrator is. Erdrich takes the concept of unreliable narrator to new heights. Much of the book is written in the form of excerpts from the diaries of Irene America, a Native American artist, wife and mother. Diaries is plural, because she keeps two: the one she wants her husband to find and read, which is at least partly fictitious, and the real one that she keeps under lock and key. The effects of their parents’ relationship games on the kids is not insignificant.

Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang. I read this book maybe 12 years ago and it stuck with me. Chang tells the life stories of her grandmother, her mother and herself. Her mother was a young woman during the Cultural Revolution. May you live in interesting times indeed. Small personal moments of heartbreak and triumph are magnified by surrounding large historical events.

Books That Scared Me Silly

In honor of my favorite holiday, here’s a handful of books that scared me silly even as they were refusing to be put down. The fear came in a different flavor with each one. Not all of them are technically horror novels.

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. For years – literally years – after I read this, I had nightmares about discovering that everyone in my life had become vampires. What if you were the last person on earth, so far as you knew, who had not been turned into a vampire? What if they came for you every single night? Brilliant book, but save up your money first to pay for the increase in your electric bill from sleeping with the lights on.

Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow. What’s so scary about werewolves is that they’re us. It’s been my observation that werewolves have been the most sympathetically portrayed monsters in horror. In Sharp Teeth, Barlow is masterful at building non-stock, well-developed lycanthropes. In verse. Did I mention he does it in verse? What made this book nail-biting for me was how much I cared about a couple of the characters and how human nature was just as threatening as animal nature. This is one of my all-time favorite books in any genre.

1984 by George Orwell.  I value my privacy. The thought of being watched every second of my life is anathema to me.  For the watched, even one slip-up in something as minor as facial expression can mean death. Add in the inability to trust anyone else and  the constant head games played by the government and this is about as dystopian as it gets. Scary because it seems so possible. Oh, and the rats.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Again, scary because I can imagine it happening in real life. Extreme religious fundamentalists take over and implement selective Biblical practices. Not the ones about the rich selling what they have and giving money to the poor.  Rather, the ones where many women are considered as no more than property and are pressed into service to bear children for those who have been rendered infertile by a wrecked environment. And as someone with severely dry skin, let me say how horrified I was by the lack of hand lotion.

The Dollhouse Murders by Betty Ren Wright.  This is theoretically a children’s book. I read it as an adult and it creeped me out no end. But it impressed me, too, with its exceedingly clever premise. A big old house, with one room containing a dollhouse that’s a scale-model reproduction of the real domicile, including the furniture and dolls representing the original residents. Each night, the furniture and dolls are moved around to re-create a murder scene. Is it the victim’s ghost trying to communicate in some way?

Dracula by Bram Stoker. In the novel, Renfield scares me more than Dracula does. Actually, that’s true in some of the movie versions as well.

Beloved by Toni Morrison. There are ghosts and then there are GHOSTS. Knowing I would have reacted just as Sethe did and thrown away everything. That part gets me. The parts based on the true history of slavery are the scariest, though.


And the Winners Were…

2010 Award Books

A lot of awarding went on in 2010. The following is a by-no-means-comprehensive list of prize winners.

Anthony Awards (Mystery)

Novel:  The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny

First Novel:  A Bad Day for Sorry by Sophie Littlefield

Paperback Original:  Starvation Lake by Bryan Gruley

Caldecott Medal (Illustration in Children’s Books)

The Lion and the Mouse illustrated and written by Jerry Pinkney

Coretta Scott King Awards (Children’s)

Author:  A Bad Day for Outlaws: The Remarkable Life of Bass Reeves, Deputy U.S. Marshall by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson; illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

Illustrator:  My People illustrated by Charles R. Smith, Jr., written by Langston Hughes

Hugo Awards (Science Fiction)

Novel: The City & The City by China Mieville, and (tie)
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

Novella:  Palimpsest by Charles Stross

There are a lot more categories. Check them out.

Lambda Literary Awards (LGBT)

Children’s/Young Adult:  Sprout by Dale Peck

Nonfiction:  The Greeks and Greek Love by James Davidson

Many, many more categories. Please check web site.

The Mann Booker Prize (Fiction)

The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson

Michael L. Printz Award (Young Adult Literature)

Going Bovine by Libba Bray

National Book Awards

Fiction:  Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon

Nonfiction:  Just Kids by Patti Smith (editorial comment: YAY!)

Poetry:  Lighthead by Terrance Hayes

Young People’s Literature: Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine

National Outdoor Book Awards

Nature and the Environment:  Adventures Among Ants: A Global Safari With a Cast of Trillions by Mark W. Moffett

Natural History Literature:  An Entirely Synthetic Fish: How Rainbow Trout Beguiled America and Overran the World by Anders Halverson
&  The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

Children’s:  Camping With the President by Ginger Wadsworth; illustrated by Karen Dugan

They have more categories. Click the link above to see.

Newbery Medal (Children’s Literature)

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

PEN/Faulkner Awards (Fiction)

War Dances by Sherman Alexie

Pulitzer Prize

Fiction:  Tinkers by Paul Harding

History: Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World by Liaquat Ahamed

Biography:  The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt by T.J. Stiles

Poetry:  Versed by Rae Armantrout

Pura Belpre Awards (Latina/Latino author/illustrator)

Author:  Return to Sender by Julia Alvarez

Illustrator:  Fiesta!: Celebrate Children’s Day/Book Day; Celebremos El día de los niños/El día de los libros , illustrated by Rafael López, written by Pat Mora

RITA Awards (Romance)

Young Adult Romance:  Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

Inspirational Romance:  The Inheritance by Tamera Alexander

Novel with Strong Romantic Elements: The Lost Recipe for Happiness by Barbara O’Neal

Historical Romance:  Not Quite a Husband by Sherry Thomas

First Book:  One Scream Away by Kate Brady

There are even more categories. Check out the website, linked above.

Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal

Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya Lee Stone

Toronto Book Awards

The Carnivore by Mark Sinnett

World Fantasy Awards

Novel:  The City & The City by China Mieville

Happy reading!

Book List: Coming of Age Books

Update:  After reading The Hunger Games, I had to add it. Scroll down for a short description.

Here’s a list that could go on and on and on, kind of like adolescence for some people. I decided it was long enough when I got tired of finding new titles for it. Most are novels, but I’ve added some nonfiction titles, as well, mostly as an excuse to be able to included one of my favorites: Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt.


After Tupac and D Foster
Jaqueline Woodson, 2008
Young adult novel focusing on the lives of three girls bonding over the music of Tupac Shakur in 1990s New York.

Alice, I Think
Susan Juby, 2003
Fictional diary of Alice, a teen with  hippy parents. She is trying to find her place in the world, with the assistance of adults who seem to need a bit of help themselves.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
Michael Chabon
Winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Two cousins team up to create comic book adventures, fighting their own version of WWII on paper.

Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret
Judy Blume, 1970
Recently (April, 2010) re-released in its approximately 3,000th print run, Blume’s  book explores the age-old question: If there is a god, why doesn’t he or she give girls the breasts they want when they want them. Could it be so hard? Okay, it’s a little deeper than that.

Sharon Flake, 2005
In this YA title, an inner city boy is left in the woods to survive on his own, his father’s effort to toughen him up in hopes he’ll be able to survive the violent environment that has already claimed the life of his brother.

Beasts of No Nation
Uzodinma Iweala, 2005
The story of an African (no country is named) boy’s involvement with a group of guerilla fighters during his country’s civil war.

Bee Season
Myla Goldberg  , 2001
A girl’s unexpected spelling bee success causes equally unexpected consequences for her family.

Black Swan Green
David Mitchell, 2007
I’ve read this one and it’s quite well-written. The protagonist is a 13-year-old British boy who is struggling with a stutter, his parents’ dissolving marriage & the anguish of being 13. Mitchell captures perfectly the depth of the agony inherent in the every-minute decisions of adolescence that can make or break your standing with the peer group. The wrong choice of facial expressions, wrong choice of words, wrong poster on your wall, can lead to the worst sort of shunning and torment. But there is profound growth and insight as well.

Blind Sighted
Peter Moore, 2002
A high school misfit lands a job as a reader for a blind young woman. Insights ensue.

Blue Boy
Rakesh Satyal, 2009
12-year-old Indian-American, Kiran, is the 10th reincarnation of Krishnaji. Isn’t he? He believes he must be. Why else would his skin be turning blue?

The Bone Collector’s Son
Paul Yee, 2004
Set in early 20th-century Vancouver, Canada, the story of a boy who must deal with the facts of his father’s unpleasant profession, the ghosts who haunt his employer’s house, and the racism directed at Chinese immigrants.

Bringing the Boy Home
N.A. Nelson, 2008
Two boys from a fictional Amazonian tribe prepare for their coming 13th birthdays, and the accompanying ritual/survival test. One of the boys has been adopted and raised by an American.

The Catcher in the Rye
J.D. Salinger, 1951
You’ve probably heard of it. 16-year-old Holden Caulfield’s three days in New York.

The Chosen One
Carol Lynch Williams, 2009
Teenaged life in a polygamous cult. The protagonist is a 13-year-old girl chosen to marry her 60-year-old uncle. Eww.

Edenville Owls
Robert B. Parker, 2007
The noted crime writer turns to YA writing here. The Owls are a high school basketball team. Basketball, courtship, and a mystery surrounding a teacher, in post WWII America.

An Egg on Three Sticks
Jackie Fischer, 2004
San Francisco in the early 70s with a mentally ill mother.

Farewell Babylon: Coming of Age in Jewish Baghdad
Naim Kattan, trans. Sheila Fischman, 2005
Mid-19th-century Baghdad, that would be.

The Foretelling
Alice Hoffman, 2005
Coming of age in an all female tribe of Amazonian warriors.

Getting in Tune: A Novel
Roger L. Trott , 2008
Written by a former music critic, the story of a young rock band in the 1970s.

A Girl Made of Dust
Nathalie Abi-Ezzi, 2008
Coming of age near Beirut during Lebanon’s civil war.

Girls in Peril: A Novella
Karen Lee Boren, 2006
1970s Lake Michigan area, a group of girls, don’t know much more. If you’ve read it, maybe you can enlighten us.

Francine Prose , 2008
If you’re 13 years old and your older sister has recently died, it’s probably a bad idea to get involved with the sister’s boyfriend. But it sounds like a good idea for a novel.

Guitar Highway Rose
Brigid Lowry, 2003
Australian teens run away together. Poetry and guitars, hitchhiking and hippies.

Bethany Griffin, 2008
If you were inferring something from the title, you were right. A bit more risque than your average YA coming of age novel.

Have Space Suit – Will Travel
Robert A. Heinlein, 1958
I loved this book when I was about 13 (considerably later than 1958.) I wonder if I would now. I remember a boy winning a space suit in a contest , but I think there was something about a basket of money on the kitchen counter that really hooked me.

Holding My Breath
Sidura Ludwig, 2007
The story of a girl pursuing dreams of being an astronomer, while living with multiple generations of her Jewish family in Manitoba in the 1950s.

The Hunger Games
Suzanne Collins, 2008
In a future dystopian North America, the one thing that remains from our culture is reality television. See, I told you it was dystopian. Two youths from each of the 12 “districts” are selected each year to participate in the Hunger Games, a televised battle to the death, with only one survivor. Participation and viewership are mandatory.  But the two teens from District 12, Katniss and Peeta, turn the games in an unprecedented direction. There are two more books in this extremely well-written trilogy: Catching Fire and Mockingjay.

In Search of Mockingbird
Loretta Ellsworth, 2007
After receiving her deceased mother’s diary, which reveals a passion for the book To Kill a Mockingbird, a 16-year-old girl hops a bus to go meet Harper Lee.

Intensely Alice
Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, 2009
Part of the Alice series. She’s 17 here.

Jane Eyre
Charlotte Bronte, 1847
I can include this if I want. After all, Jane is 10 when the book begins; it’s not all her relationship with the mysterious Mr. Rochester.

Mal Peet, 2005
Fictitious interview with a fictitious world-famous goalkeeper for a World Cup championship soccer team. He recounts being taught the game by a spirit being in the rain forest.

Last Child
Michael Spooner, 2005
In 1830s North Dakota, a girl who is half Scottish, half Mandan struggles with identity, smallpox and war.

Last Dance at the Frosty Queen
Richard Allen Uhlig, 2007
A high school senior is desperate to escape his small Kansas town, circa 1988.

The Latent Powers of Dylan Fontaine
April Lurie, 2008
A 16-year-old boy copes with being the subject of a friend’s documentary while trying to help his falling-apart family to get a grip on itself.

Life at These Speeds
Jeremy Jackson, 2002
A high school track star copes with being the only surviving team member after his teammates die in an accident.

Lili: A Novel of Tianenmen
Annie Wang, 2001
Growing up in Beijing during the time of the famous events in Tianenmen Square.

Looking for Lucy Buick
Rita Murphy, 2005
Girl who has been raised by a family who found her in the back seat of a Buick sets off to find her biological parents.

The Lucky Place
Zu Vincent, 2008
Set in the 1950s & 60s. A girl finds her loyalties divided between her father and step-father.

Me, the Missing, and the Dead
Jenny Valentine, 2008
If you were a 16-year-old Londoner who has been accidentally left in charge of an urn of ashes, what would you think? What if your father had mysteriously disappeared? Would you start to think things, such as “The person who used to be these ashes is talking to me?” Quite possibly.

No Laughter Here
Rita Williams-Garcia, 2004
Female genital mutilation comes to Queens, New York. No laughter indeed.

On Rough Seas
Nancy Hull, 2008
In 1940, a 14-year-old British boy, feeling in need of redemption, involves himself at Dunkirk.

One Lonely Degree
C.K. Kelly Martin, 2009
Sexual assault and love triangles provide more than enough struggle for a teenager.

Roland Smith, 2008
A 14-year-old sets out to climb Mount Everest.

Sag Harbor
Colson Whitehead, 2009
Autobiographical novel. A teen spends his school year at a prep school and his summers in the African-American community of Sag Harbor.

The Sand Fish: A Novel From Dubai
Maha Gargash, 2009
In 1950s Dubai, a 17-year-old girl unsuccessfully tries to flee an arranged marriage.

Sonny’s House of Spies
George Ella Lyon, 2004
Set in post-WWII Alabama. A boy tries to solve the mystery of his father’s departure.

The Speed of Light
Ron Carlson, 2003
Two 12-year-old boys spend a summer performing scientific experiments. And if a few things get blow up in the process…

The Story Sisters: A Novel
Alice Hoffman, 2009
The three Story sisters lead tragic and magical lives. I haven’t read this, but since it’s written by Alice Hoffman, I will eventually.

Tell Me Lies
Patrick Cooper, 2007
Life in the counterculture in 1969 England.

Thicker Than Water: Coming-of-Age Stories by Irish and Irish-American Writers, 2001
12 writers, 12 stories. You know you want to read it. Who can resist Irish storytelling?

To Kill a Mockingbird
Harper Lee, 1960
Do I really need to give a synopsis? The perfect novel. That’s my summary.

Walk Away Home
Paul Many, 2002
A teen who loves to walk, walks across the state to live with his aunt, who lives in a commune.

The Wednesday Wars
Gary D. Schmidt, 2007
Set in 1967. On Wednesday afternoons, all of 11-year-old Holling’s classmates attend either Hebrew school or catechism class. As the sole Presbyterian, he’s left alone with the teacher.

The Winter People
Joseph Bruchac, 2002
The experiences of a 14-year-old Abenaki boy during the French and Indian Wars.

Wish You Well
David Baldacci, 2007
Not one of Baldacci’s usual legal thrillers. In 1940, two children move from New York City to their great-grandmother’s farm, following the deaths of their parents.

Odo Hirsch, 2004
A boy sets out on his coming of age journey only to find himself in slavery.


Angela’s Ashes
Frank McCourt, 1996
On the first page of his memoir Frank McCourt says “People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version.”  McCourt’s version contains almost unbearable heartbreak and misery, but very little martyrdom. When you get past the heartbreaking parts, keep your hanky handy for the tears of laughter. Often the two elements mingle. A brilliantly-written book. I said up-front it’s one of my favorites.

Bat Boy: My True Life Adventures Coming of Age With the New York Yankees
Matthew McGough, 2005
Talk about getting to live your dream.

The Bitter Sea: Coming of Age in a China Before Mao
Charles N. Li, 2008
May you live in interesting times. Li has.

The Cat With the Yellow Star: Coming of Age in Terezin
Susan Goldman Rubin, 2006
A book for younger readers – middle school ageish. The story of a Jewish girl who starred as the cat in the children’s opera Brundibar, performed by children in the Terezin concentration camp.

Coming of Age in Samoa
Margaret Mead, 1928
Did Margaret Mead know what she was talking about? People are still debating.

First Darling of the Morning: Selected Memories of an Indian Childhood
Thrity Umrigar, 2004
Coming of age in Bombay in the 60s and 70s, attending Catholic school amidst a largely Hindu population.

Freddie and Me: A Coming-of-Age (Bohemian) Rhapsody
Mike Dawson , 2008
Freddie Mercury as role model.  Hmmmm..

How I Learned to Snap: A Small-Town Coming-Out and Coming-of-Age Story
Kirk Read, 2003
The small town would be Lexington, VA.

The Last Gentleman Adventurer: Coming of Age in the Arctic
Edward Beauclerk Maurice, 2005
A 16-year-old British youth finds himself working among the Inuit in the 1930s.

Loon: A Marine Story
Jack McLean, 2009
Experiences of a teenaged Marine in Vietnam.

Miss American Pie: A Diary of Love, Secrets, and Growing Up in the 1970s
Margaret Sartor, 2006
Memoir based on diary entries kept during the author’s adolescence in the deep south.

Moon Mother, Moon Daughter: Rituals and Myths That Celebrate a Girl’s Coming of Age
Janet Lucy, 2002
Synopsis is in the subtitle.

My Little Red Book
Anthology, 2009
An anthology of stories about first periods.

Nylon Road: A Graphic Memoir of Coming of Age in Iran
Parsua Bashi

Once Upon a Quincanera: Coming of Age in the United States
Julia Alvarez, 2008
An examination of the Latina 15th birthday celebration.

An Open Book: Coming of Age in the Heartland
Michael Dirda, 2003
Coming of age through reading.

Point of Departure: Nineteen Stories of Youth and Discovery
Anthology, 2005

A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Survival, Learning, and Coming of Age in Prison
R. Dwayne Betts, 2009
Sentenced as an adult at age 16, Betts grew up in prison.

Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx
Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, 2003
Urban non-fiction.

Sixteen: Stories About That Sweet and Bitter Birthday
Anthology, 2004
I have this in my non-fiction list, but am not sure whether any of the stories are memoirs, or if they’re all fiction.

Snow Falling in Spring: Coming of Age in China During the Cultural Revolution
Moying Li, 2008
1960s China was not an easy place to grow up.

Thin Ice: Coming of Age in Canada
Bruce McCall, 1997
Sure, it’s easy to write a memoir if you grew up in the midst of the Cultural Revolution, or had to escape a polygamist cult. But Canadians who are bad at hockey can be interesting, too.

Things the Grandchildren Should Know
Mark Everett, 2008
What do you do if you lose your entire family in short period of time at a young age? Start an indie rock band, of course.

Writes of Passage: Coming of Age Stories and Memoirs From the Hudson Review
Anthology, 2008.
I have arbitrarily put all anthologies on my non-fiction list.