When you think of classic coming-of-age novels, your mind probably instantly goes to The Catcher in the Rye or The Outsiders, but what about the female experience? From our grade school reading class and onward, we are inundated with stories of boys growing up and becoming men, but coming-of-age novels from the female perspective are often overlooked.
Being a girl isn't easy, and growing up is one of the hardest parts about it. Finding your place in the world as a girl can be complicated, painful, and frustrating, especially when you live in a world dominated by the opposite sex. As girls grow from adolescents to adults, they struggle with developing their own personalities, embracing their sexuality, and defining their own future. To top it off, they're often faced with sexism from the playground all the way to the board room. The female experience is unique and remarkable, and when it's captured in literature, it becomes something we can all begin to understand a little bit better.
Because women's stories matter just as much as men's, here are 13 modern and classic coming-of-age novels from the female perspective that can help you understand what it's like growing up girl.
1. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
One of the most beloved classic coming-of-age novels, Louisa May Alcott's Little Women explores the life of not just one but four girls as they become, as the title would imply, women. The March sisters, Meg, Beth, Jo, Amy, and Jo come to life in this beautiful, moving novel about growing up and finding your own path to happiness.
2. How the García Girls Lost Their Accents byJulia Alvarez
Another story about multiple women, How the García Girls Lost Their Accents also follows a set of sisters, this time the four García sisters whose family had to flee the Dominican Republic's harsh dictatorship and create brand new lives in the United States. Spanning 30 years and written in reverse chronological order, Alvarez tells the girls' stories from shifting perspectives, capturing each of their unique experiences with coming of age, learning to assimilate, and finding their own identities. Captivating and poignant, How the García Girls Lost Their Accents is a Bildungsroman at its finest.
3. Mosquitoland by David Arnold
A hilarious and heartwrenching story of one girl's thousand mile journey home, Mosquitoland is a touching coming-of-age story about family, heartache, and self-discovery. This is the kind of story you won't forget.
4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird is many things, among them an inspiring coming-of-age novel about a young girl trying to figure out what is right and what is wrong in the world. Scout, the heroine of the book, struggles to find truth, justice, and, ultimately, love in a world full of hate, while she also struggles to find her place in it.
5. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Though not considered a young adult novel, Zora Neale Hurston's classic Their Eyes Were Watching God is a wonderful coming-of-age story about womanhood and everything that goes along with discovering it. In the novel, Janie Crawford grows from a curious, vivacious young girl to a remarkably strong and independent woman, all the while experiencing first heartbreaks and second chances. For anyone trying to figure out who they are, Their Eyes Were Watching God is a must read.
6. Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block
A truly unique coming-of-age novel, Francesca Lia Block's Weetzie Bat tackles some of growing up's most complicated issues — sex, homosexuality, abortion, teen pregnancy, STDs, and AIDS — and faces them head-on. An affecting and candid novel filled with magic and fantasy, Weetzie Bat is a story unlike any other.
7. Saint Anything by Sarah Dessen
Sarah Dessen is no stranger to the coming-of-age story, and her recent novel, Saint Anything , is her best one yet. Sydney's world is turned upside down after her brothers drunk-driving accident, an experience that leaves her wondering who she is and where she belongs. A touching story about family and identity, Saint Anything is a great addition to the voices of young women growing up.
8. How To Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran
Much like her memoir, How To Be a Woman, Caitlin Moran's How To Build a Girl is as hilarious as it is poignant. After teenager Johanna Morrigan embarrasses herself on television, she decides to reinvent herself and become someone completely new. Soon, she finds out just how complicated it is to create your own identity. Frank and unapologetic, this is a coming-of-age book for every kind of girl.
9. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
A quintessential coming-of-age story from the female perspective, Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle may only cover six months of Cassandra Mortmain's life, but they're full of life changes and self-discovery. Plenty of young girls will relate to this enchanting, haunting novel and find inspiration in Cassandra's story.
10. Up to This Pointe by Jennifer Longo
Up to This Pointe is for all the girls whose dreams didn't go as planned. Kate spent her whole life training to become a ballerina. When she has to change her plans, she find herself in Antarctica on a science grant. There, she learns to heal and discovers who she really is — and who she wants to become.
11. Persepolis: A Story of Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
A memoir in the form of black-and-white comic strips, Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis tells the story of the author's life growing up in Tehran during some of Iran's most tumultuous years. Deeply personal yet unavoidably political, this is a powerful coming-of-age story that proves the strength and endurance all young girls have within them.
12. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. by Judy Blume
It may be over 45 years old, but Judy Blume's Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. is still the perfect coming-of-age story. It tackles the major issues girls face growing up, including finding your faith, discovering your own voice, having that first crush, getting your period, and being envious of the girls around you. A book that isn't afraid to trudge into the murky waters of early womanhood, Blume's classic should be required reading.
13. Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy
Readers won't be able to stop themselves from falling in love with Willowdean "Dumplin" Dickson, the larger-than-life protagonist of Julie Murphy's unforgettable Dumplin', a story about what happens when even the most confident girl is overwhelmed with self doubt. Inspiring and heartwarming, Dumplin' is the kind of coming-of-age story all young girls get to experience, because, like the main character herself, everyone feels a little unsure sometimes. But in the end, we're always capable of more than we think we are.