Category Archives: 100 Must-Read Coming of Age Books

Where the Dead Sit Talking by Brandon Hobson

Where the Dead Sit Talking Title: Where the Dead Sit Talking
Author: Brandon Hobson
Publisher: Soho Press
ISBN: 978-1616958879
Genre: Coming of Age
Pages: 288
Source: Author
Rating: 5 Stars

Coming of age stories are always appealing to me. Somewhere or the other, they spring up and I read them and get all nostalgic about growing-up too soon or growing-up and not realizing that it happened. “Where the Dead Sit Talking” is one such book. Also, might I add here that coming-of-age stories could also take place at a time when you are also an adult, however, this one is set on the brink of adolescence and is illuminating and intensely psychological at the same time.

“Where the Dead Sit Talking” is not a regular coming of age book. It is raw, jagged at the edges and tackles some major issues such as child abuse, abandonment, alcoholism and neglect without any pretense. Also, to some extent it draws on the flaws of the American foster care system (I’ve always wondered how efficient that is, but I guess there is another book for that at another time).

The book is set in the late ‘80’s, Sequoyah a fifteen-year-old, is the narrator of the book. He has moved from one foster home to another (his mother is serving jail time), till he seems to settle with this one family in Little Crow and that’s where the story begins. He forms an instant connection with one of the other foster children there – Rosemary and that forms the crux of the book.

The thing about this book is that it doesn’t sugar coat brutality. It is there for all to read and experience, no matter if you are cringing or don’t want to turn another page (which you wouldn’t want to, because this book is that good), read you must.

Hobson’s characters are so flawed and waiting for redemption so long, that you start hoping for them. Brandon’s prose is simple and yet striking, it is layered and easy to read, which to me are fantastic about very few books. Also, the Native-American narrative is so needed (was always needed) and comes out powerfully in the book. At the heart of it though, “Where the Dead Sit Talking” is about humans – battered, lonely, the ones who do things and then regret and sometimes there is no regret as well. It is a book waiting to share its secrets with you, it is more than just a coming-of-age book – the one that will move and haunt you in equal measure.

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The Parking Lot Attendant by Nafkote Tamirat

The Parking Lot AttendantTitle: The Parking Lot Attendant
Author: Nafkote Tamirat
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
ISBN: 978-1250128508
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 240
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

The Parking Lot Attendant is such a weird book at times and maybe because of all its oddities it works brilliantly for the reader in so many places. The plot is this: An unnamed young woman (a lot of unnamed narrators or protagonists in books these days), who has just recently become a resident on the island of B with her father tells the story of how things came to be. Of why she and her father had to come to this Utopian styled community, leaving their home in Boston. That essentially is the crux of the story. No wait. There is more.

 

There is Ayale, the shady parking lot owner in his mid-thirties who the woman was attracted to while she was living in Boston. Their life as Ethiopians in Boston (this has to be mentioned. You will know why when you read the book). The book is about the woman and her relationship with Ayale, her father and how she has to flee the country with her father. I can’t give away any spoilers, but I guess you get the drift.

 

Tamirat’s writing is refreshing. It doesn’t mostly follow the linearity of time – things happen and jump from one time track to another, so it does take a lot to get into the book, but once you get the hang of the events, it is an easy ride. The story seems awkward but it is anything but that.

 

There is a lot going on – coming of age, the woman’s relationship with her father, the commune and its principles (will almost make you relate to the world we live in) and Ayale’s relationship with the woman (which is so twisted that you have to read it to believe it). “The Parking Lot Attendant” is engaging, stumbles at times, confusing as well, but redeems itself beautifully with the writing and characters. I loved it nonetheless.

 

 

The Job of the Wasp by Colin Winnette

The Job of the Wasp by Colin Winnette Title: The Job of the Wasp
Author: Colin Winnette
Publisher: Soft Skull Press
ISBN: 978-1593766801
Genre: Coming of Age, Gothic, Ghosts
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

An unnamed narrator shows up at a mysterious facility for orphaned boys. The world is strange, eerie and everything seems to be sinister, even the Headmaster. He hears whispers at night. His classmates are volatile and always angry and for some reason, the Headmaster is sending him cryptic messages to confess. But confess about what? What is going on? And then beware, because the corpses start showing up.

This is the plot, to put it loosely of “The Job of the Wasp”. I have just given you the gist. There is so much more to this book that perhaps cannot be put into words. This is such a dark book that for most of the time I found myself jumping in my skin as I was reading it late into the night. I have always found myself strangely attracted to ghost stories, even though I can’t sleep a wink after reading them.

“The Job of the Wasp” will make you paranoid even if you aren’t that person. There are layers of what’s happening and why and though you think you have it all figured, the book takes a sharp turn and leaves you breathless. The writing is in the atmosphere – from the facility to its surroundings to the dark characters, Winnette’s skills just show us the chaos of the world and what goes on in people’s hearts.

The book is so many things – surreal, entertaining, witty, and so bizarre, that it not only takes you by surprise but also leaves you gobsmacked and wanting more and more. I wish I could put the brilliance of this novel in more words, however, all I can say is that you have to get up, go to the nearest bookstore, and pick this up. Don’t drop it till you are done reading it.

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent Title: My Absolute Darling
Author: Gabriel Tallent
Publisher: Fourth Estate, HarperCollins
ISBN: 978-0008185220
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 432
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Once in a while, you read a book that makes you angry. Very angry. And you cannot help but cheer so madly and wildly for the underdog. The book takes over your life till you are done reading it and while it is hopeful (in small doses and so not enough), it also leaves you exhausted, frustrated and contemplative about the world you inhabit. “My Absolute Darling” by Gabriel Tallent is one such book and it is very hard to believe that it is only his debut.

“My Absolute Darling” is the kind of book that will in the most brutal manner stay with you long after you’ve finished it. It is one of those books that you wouldn’t even want to stay with you and yet it will. It is the dark “Lolita”. Nabokov’s “Lolita” looks like a bird in front of this one. The book is of the coming-of-age genre in the most raw, terrible manner. The one that no child must go through and perhaps the ones that do, mostly emerge to be the stronger ones. But as the blurb says, “Sometimes strength is not the same as courage” or “Sometimes leaving is not the only way to escape” – this book lives up to it in so many ways.

Julia (Turtle) Alveston is a survivor. She is all of fourteen and has grown-up isolated since the death of her mother. Her father, Martin, is tortured and believes that Julia is the best thing that has happened to him. So much so that he doesn’t want to let go of her. She is after all his, “absolute darling”. Turtle is physically, mentally and emotionally abused by her father. Turtle’s social existence is confined to her school, and sometimes meeting her grandfather, who she is most fond of. She doesn’t have friends. She is angry, miserable, and all she knows is how to survive and that her daddy loves her very much (she also deep down just wants to get away from all of this).

In all of this, Turtle meets Jacob, a high-school boy who reads, is funny and lives in a big clean house with his parents and sister. For once, Turtle feels some kind of normalcy in her life and starts forging friendships. But she now has to find a way to escape her old life and start anew. She wants to leave her “devoted” father. And thus begins the story of Turtle (almost more than halfway through the book). She becomes her own hero and I as a reader often found myself just hooting for her, cheering, interacting with her, wanting to hug her and tell her that it will all be okay, to reach out between the pages and scream at Martin, to perhaps even kill him.

The emotional complexities of this book are of another level. The setting of the book is the outdoors (woods along the Northern California Coast) – where Turtle lives with her father. This adds another layer of fierceness and subtext to the novel. Of how sometimes even though circumstances aren’t just about right, you can still seize what is yours if you want to. But this book thankfully, isn’t preachy. It is real. Sometimes too real.

The story is gripping. You cannot help but turn the pages and yet you don’t want to. Tallent takes you to the heart of darkness (multiple times) and leaves you hanging with what will happen next. He takes you through the maze in Turtle’s head – her confusion, her loss of expression, her self-doubt (always thinking she isn’t pretty and not worthy of anything good), self-loathing and finally being resilient to it all. There are times when words that need Turtle’s expression aren’t there and yet you know it all. The writing is that surreal and empathetic. The prose is measure, even though laborious at times, but it is worth it. Tallent has also referenced so many authors and books in this book, which to me was nothing short of brilliant and each reference made so much sense in the larger sense of the plot (I will list those down soon). There were technicalities with weapons which I didn’t get at all, but I let it go. The characters that Tallent creates are frighteningly real. Such an incident or series of incidents could be happening in your backyard and you wouldn’t know of it.

This one sentence stood out for me as an explanation for the entire book, however the entire book is peppered with so many of them: “Her moments of happiness occur right at the margin of the unbearable”.

Read this book only if you can stomach it. But read it. Make yourself stronger and read it. The prose demands to be read. The emotions most certainly do. Tallent is one author to watch out for. I loved reading this one.