Saturday, February 03, 2007

Just What Is A Coming-Of-Age Book?

Colleen at Chasing Ray is doing a You Should Read This Award. She's accepting nominations from any year of publication on the theme "Coming of Age." She says, "Essentially (to me anyway), a coming-of-age book is when the protagonist makes a fundamental shift from allowing events or other people to determine who they are and how they will live, to taking the reins and carving out a life of their own."

I thought this was interesting because I realized reading it that I'd never heard a real definition of the term "coming-of-age book." It's one of those things I thought I knew, much as I think I know the meaning of many words from having heard them in context over and over again. (How wrong I've learned I often am.)

I always thought of coming-of-age books as being about that point in a character's existence when she learns that life ain't going to be a bowl of cherries. That's the big passage into adulthood--the knowledge that takes you out of paradise. Surprise! You can't really grow up to be president some day! We were just kidding! We aren't even going to have enough money saved up for you to go to college. And you know how Grandma grew old and then died? Well, guess what. That's going to happen to you, too!

But Colleen's definition involves a character actually doing something with that knowledge. It's a dynamic definition. While my so-called definition is just depressing.

Which probably explains why I've never been all that crazy about coming-of-age books.


Blogger Kate said...

Thanks for Colleen's definition, which I now have posted in the thoughtful section of my bulletin board. But I like your livelier description too. Maybe it's not depressing, it's just not finished -- you didn't get to the part where the protagonist takes the reins.
I'd agree though that, as a genre, coming-of-age title tend to lack the humor and generosity of spirit which makes the real life versions tolerable, and sometimes even fun.

9:29 AM  

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