Why We Love Coming of Age Tales

Welcome to Retro Time. In this blog, I’ll be covering topics related to film and television from past decades. These won’t be reviews, but rather a selection of memories, thoughts, and ideas designed to spark a little nostalgia and maybe inspire a conversation or two.  Spoilers will likely come up, so please keep that in mind. Thanks for stopping by, and if you have any thoughts or ideas, feel free to chime in. I’d love to get your feedback. Now, let’s get ready to take a look back…

Great Coming of Age Tales

Last summer’s release of the Netflix series, Stranger Things, as well as the recent trailer for the upcoming adaption of Stephen King’s It have shined a new light on an old theme: the coming of age tale. There’s a reason why we gravitate toward stories featuring adolescents facing hardships while on the cusp of young adulthood. Much of it has to do with the fact that we’ve all been through something similar in one way or another.

We’ve all experienced those awkward years of twelve…thirteen…fourteen…when our bodies and minds begin to morph into something far more complicated then we’d known up to that point. For some, the transition is relatively smooth. For others, it feels like chaotic clashing of cymbals loud enough to wake the dead. But no matter which degree of severity we experience, we all end up coming through that time with a real and profound understanding that things have changed.

Coming of age tales remind us of this very real, very personal experience that we can all relate to. Often these stories give us either a character or group of characters in this age range who end up facing off against some sinister force that wants to do harm to them or the people and places they care about. Sometimes these forces have supernatural elements. Sometimes they are just monsters of a human nature. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that our heroes and heroines are made to face them, and when they do, they’re never the same again.

These stories mean something to us because they allow us to reach back into that time and be reminded of challenges we’ve all endured. Maybe we didn’t fight Pennywise under the swerves of our hometown. Maybe we didn’t hike the rails on mission to see a dead body. But we’ve all come face to face with our own version of Pennywise in one way or another. If you’ve grown up even a little bit, it’s impossible not to.

And that’s why these stories resonate with us. They remind us of the experiences we’ve undergone and of the changes we’ve all gone through. And ultimately, they give us a chance to look back on ourselves and see just how far we’ve come.

With that in mind, I’m going to do something a little bit different on today’s blog. Rather than talking about films or television shows related to this topic, I’d like to list several of my favorite books that feature strong young characters coming of age in the midst of harsh and sinister forces.

Now, before you groan and click out, I beg you to please, please, please take a few more minutes to read on. Maybe you’re not a big book fan. Maybe you don’t have the time to read that you once did. Maybe you have zero interest in ever looking up any of the books I’m about to list. That’s okay. I’m not advocating that you run out and read these stories right away. (Though that wouldn’t be a bad idea. And many of these are available in audio formats, which could be a good way – aside from listening to LSG podcasts of course – to pass the time during long commutes). I simply believe that you’ll have something to gain just by knowing that they’re out there. If you’re a fan of Stranger Things, of It, of Stand by Me, or any of the numerous films or shows in this vein, I’m sure you’ll appreciate these following books for what they are. And if you do decide that you’d like to learn more, I will put links to their Amazon pages in each title.

So without further ado:

Hatchet by Gary Paulson

I chose this one because of its unique take on the coming of age theme. The story features a boy named Brian who is flying over the Canadian wilderness in a single engine plane on his way to see his father when the pilot suffers a heart attack and crashes into a remote lake. Alive but alone, Brian must figure out how to survive in the harsh wilderness hundreds of miles from civilization. In this story, the sinister force that Brian faces is nature itself and his catharsis comes when he learns to shed all the trappings of former, cushy life and tap into the primal side of human nature in order to survive.

The Voice of the Night by Dean Koontz

I read this one years ago but it has still stuck with me. The story features two boys, Colin and Roy, who are best friends. Colin is shy and sensitive while Roy is brash and outgoing. Due to his social awkwardness, Colin covets his friendship with Roy and will do just about anything to please him. But Roy has a dark side, and soon Colin begins to discover that his best friend – his only true friend – is actually a violent sociopath. But with no evidence and no one he can turn to for help, Colin must find a way to deal with Roy’s dangerous behavior before it escalates into something truly terrifying. Roy’s psychosis is the sinister force at work in this story, but the true drama comes in watching as the good-natured Colin is forced to deal with the heartbreak of losing a friend.

Summer of Night by Dan Simmons

This is another that I read years ago, but I still remember it vividly due to its great characters and crack writing style. It features an ensemble cast of five boys growing up in a small Midwest town in 1960. As the title suggests, its summertime, which means no school and plenty of time to have fun. But there’s a strange supernatural force at work in their town. And true to form, all of the adults are oblivious to the otherworldly danger. It’s up to the boys to take action. Unlike the loss of friendship theme that Koontz explored in The Voice of the Night, this book features a strengthening of friendship bonds as the boys come together to face a common foe. If you’re a fan of It and Stranger Things, this one is definitely up your alley.

Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon

Finally, I’m going to close on a book that is not only one of the best coming of age stories I’ve ever read, it’s one of the best BOOKS I’ve ever read. I discovered Boy’s Life way back in high school and for me it has continued to be the gold standard in literature as well as an example of the heights that this art from is truly capable of reaching. The story focus on a twelve year old boy named Cory who is growing up in a small southern town in the mid-1960’s. The main plot centers on a murder mystery, but that’s just a vessel to carry us through this amazingly rich world full of experiences and wonders that are too numerous to list. Through the course of the book, we follow a year in Cory’s life, one that brings him in contact with sinister forces that are both supernatural and human in nature. Cory’s change comes as a parallel to times he’s living in which are also changing. The entire story is his coming of age as we see the events of that year shape and mold him in ways that are sometimes deep, often heartbreaking, and ultimately uplifting.

So that’s it for now. Coming of age stories have the ability to speak to the heart of the human condition. And while a film or television show can offer us a window into that world, a good book can delve deeper and bring us closer to the memories of those times and to the experiences that connect us all.

For that reason, I hope you can give some of these titles a chance.

Your inner adolescent with thank you.


George Ebey is the author of the recently released sci-fi novella DEBBI as well as a contributor to the anthology Brave New Girls. He is currently working on a full-length series of adventure tales set on Mars. You can connect with him on Facebook at George Ebey-Author and on Twitter @Ebeybooks. Or visit his website at www.georgeebey.com.