Revisiting this decade’s most influential coming-of-age novels


Charlotte Gumpel, Staff Writer

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon, Perks of a Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky and many stories like these have been considered this generation’s “coming-of-age” novels, read by masses of teenagers with thousands of fans. Movie adaptations, sequels, prequels, spin-offs and then some abound. As 2020 has officially come to an end, the millions of teenagers in high school might look back on these stories that they read years ago and wonder, “Is this what my life is like?” in comparison  to The Fault in Our Stars or Looking for Alaska by John Green. Will I investigate the disappearance of my estranged friend’s father like Aza in Turtles All the Way Down by John Green? Will I be caught in a dramatic love triangle like Lara Jean in To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han?


Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School (SPFHS) sophomore Minahal Azhar, is a seasoned coming-of-age reader; however, she finds that these stories, specifically The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton or Paper Towns by John Green, did not necessarily shape her expectations for teenage years correctly.


“I sometimes based my teenage years on the plot of the stories in which the main character went on adventures, big parties and had their life planned out with no dilemmas.” Azhar said. “As I started growing up, the expectations that I had a few years back were not met. I expected the stereotypical high school things, crazy drama and having thrilling adventures outside of school, but in reality it’s not really like that.”


Azhar might have expected the rush of vandalizing buildings, like in The Outsiders or the glee of adventure like in Paper Towns. Teenagers tend to form their expectations for their upcoming years based on the media and art they consume. 


Yet, stories like The Hunger Games were more than just a dystopian novel to many. Empowering characters like Katniss Everdeen, were figureheads of female empowerment and role models for many teenagers, regardless of gender. SPFHS sophomore Emily Homer, finds a piece of herself in the character Starr Carter from The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. 


“Even though [Starr Carter] was still worried about what others thought about her, she was still able to persevere and do what she knew was right,” Homer said. “This made an impact on me because sometimes I tend to worry too much about what others think, but after reading the book I came to realize that other people should not impact what you do, when you know it is right.”


Homer is right, these stories were more than characters to many. These characters were role models, their morals and ideas idolized by fans. Teenagers found pieces of themselves within certain characters, which led to them being more attached. Fictional characters became the world in which teenagers lived vicariously through, providing an escape.


Union County Vocational Technical School sophomore Gabby Virga, feels that the new generation’s coming of age stories should be more realistic and catered towards the “real” life of a teenager.


“I think it would be helpful so that students can relate to it,” Virga said. “High school can be tough for a lot of people so having relatable books especially for those who find enjoyment in reading can be comforting.”


The commercial success of stories like The Fault in Our Stars or Paper Towns was no accident; teenagers fawn over love stories mixed with adventure and freedom because it is the cliché that has been mixed with the teenage time period over the years. Movies like “Mean Girls” or “High School Musical” also convey this cliché. 


Having reread and reflected, it has become increasingly important that representation and realism are mandatory, which are things that were not necessarily present in this generation’s slew of iconic teenage stories. Of course, there is no shame in indulging in a cheesy novel, and these stories are no doubt enjoyable, but the stereotypes and clichés within these books continue to set very high expectations for its young and impressionable readers.