The Coming of Age Story

Breakfast Club

The above is probably one of the biggest examples from my generation.  ‘The Breakfast Club’ was always a big ‘coming of age’ story.  It had a group of high schoolers in detention where they got to know each other.  They grew up a bit over the course of the movie and changed.  This is what a ‘coming of age’ story tends to be.

At least, that’s what I think it is.

The truth is that I’ve never been clear on this type of story.  Growing up, it was all about real-world teenagers maturing and getting closer to adulthood.  I’ve heard other people use the phrase to describe movies where a character loses their innocence and find out how harsh the world is.  Others simply use it when a story has a teenage protagonist because they assume growth will take place.  It makes it rather confusing to figure out the exact definition.

I guess the common thread is that a character will change in a way that they become more of an adult.  This can be different from person to person because we don’t always see adulting as the same thing.  One may view it as growing up and making mature decisions while casting away childish things.  Others define it as losing their sense of wonder and accepting they have to stop playing around.  Guess it’s an optimistic or pessimistic view of growing up, which can sway a person into using the ‘coming of age’ term.  No wonder it isn’t a stable genre.

This brings me to ‘coming of age’ stories in fantasy.  I’d been told that Legends of Windemere counted, so I have it as an Amazon keyword/phrase.  Yet, I never really thought about it until now.  Luke Callindor does start as an arrogant, immature teenager and grows into adulthood over the course of the adventure.  He does this through a series of victories, losses, traumas, and other experiences.  Same goes for Nyx and Sari, who are in the same age bracket.  Delvin, Timoran, and Dariana are older or more experienced, so they don’t really fall into this category.  Yet, I do think ‘coming of age’ could work for a series that has its heroes mature.

Maturation and change is the key here.  ‘Coming of age’ can’t work with static characters because they end where they started.  For a teenager that means staying immature and not learning from their experiences.  To be fair, we all know at least one adult that would fit this description.  Yet, that is not the type of character one wants as a protagonist.  For this kind of story to work, there needs to be change and they have to be less childish than when they started.  It doesn’t mean throwing away their hobbies, but to see the world in a more adult way . . . No, I don’t know how that works either.

Every time I write one idea about this concept, I come up with more questions and scenarios.  ‘Coming of age’ differs in people thanks to their own experiences, upbringing, worldview, and aspirations.  A story where the person matures to leave the dreams of running a business behind to work on their art wouldn’t be seen as an adult decision to some people.  Others would have the same issues with the opposite journey.  So, you aren’t going to hit the target with every reader.  Those who would mature in that way or at least understand why it’s appealing may see it as a ‘coming of age’ story.  Since those tend to be uplifting and positive, you really need readers to think the change is for the better on some level.  Can’t really predict that all the time.

So, what do other people think of ‘coming of age’ stories?  Do you have a good idea of what they are supposed to be about?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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19 Responses to The Coming of Age Story

  1. L. Marie says:

    The Breakfast Club is the quintessential coming of age story! I’ve also seen people point to Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Fault in Our Stars, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower as examples as well. But yes, I can see your whole series as coming of age stories for many of your heroes. I agree with what you said here about these stories. The character or characters must change in some way thanks to being face with an occurrence in his/her life that is the change agent. The character can’t veer around change.

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  2. Agreed regarding The Breakfast Club. For old men like me, “Old Yeller” was a rare, 1957, Disney masterpiece (you can Google it). My favorite coming of age story is “Pinctada,” set from the Great Northwest to the South Pacific in 1956/57 but touching the early 60s—two older teens sail off on a stolen yawl, and of course, come of age—and I’m biased because I wrote it!😊

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  3. In less industrial societies (I refuse to call them primitive, just not developed in the same way) there were literal adulthood ceremonies that marked a transition from child to adult in the eyes of the society. They could involve vision quests, using substances to have dreams, circumcision, getting tattoos, and more. After completing the ritual, the individual was recognized as an adult in terms of their career, marriage, and other social responsibilities.

    I guess I could direct this back to you. If I recall, you recently blogged that your son took part in a Bar Mitzvah. Isn’t that a coming of age ceremony? Maybe think about what the Bar Mitzvah means to your family and faith. Does it change anyone’s view of the person who was Mitzvahed? (Not sure of the verb here.)

    If you were going to include something like that in a story, how would it change the story?

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    • Bar (and Bat) Mitzvahs are rituals about children entering adulthood. It’s fairly symbolic though. A child doesn’t immediately gain maturity or a different worldview after doing it. Just more responsibilities in the eyes of the temple from what I can tell.

      That’s the interesting thing I find about coming of age stories. They’re more than the rituals we see today. There’s a definite level of change on a psychological level.

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  4. I have read stories that were supposed to be ‘coming of age’ and were in reality stories of kids being kids. I have no idea what a coming-of-age story is.

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  5. To my mind it involves a youthful character, or characters, who face more adult obstacles for the first time. This almost has to include some kind of growth or change in that character. Think of a dork type who becomes a hero, then isn’t perceived as a dork anymore. I also believe you can have a main character that does not change. In many older stories this was common. Characters like Conan were always Conan. Sherlock was always Sherlock. I’ve been dwelling on Wednesday Addams with the same thought process, because of the new series.

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  6. Chel Owens says:

    I’m sure it’s people simply mis-defining stories. I agree that some sort of more-responsible behavior is the result of coming-of-age.

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  7. V.M.Sang says:

    I had one of my historical novels, Vengeance of a Slave, described as a coming of age novel by a reviewer. I had never thought of it that way, although the protagonist grows from a child to an adult in its pages, and on the way becomes more mature.
    I suppose you are correct in saying that everyone has their own idea as to what it is.

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