Coming of Age

What is it about this genre that I find so attractive? Does anyone else feel this way? Are there readers for this sort of thing? There is no official classification in the book markets for ‘coming-of-age’ and I’m somewhat horrified to find the ‘college and new adult’ category chosen for my book seems to be little but titillating fluff and chick-lit in disguise. Wish there was a more concrete sort of category, such as “That Awkward and Intense Limbo-world Between Childhood and Adulthood,” or even “Literary Novels for Intelligent Adolescents and Twenty-Somethings.” Both my novel, The Novice Master, and my screenplay in progress, The Raven Girl, are essentially tales of young people stumbling into adulthood. It’s curious that I’m drawn to this genre as a writer, because I am not a young adult anymore, and my own coming of age was decades ago. You’d think I’d barely remember it. But I do, with a great deal of poignancy and bittersweetness–perhaps because it’s such a unique time of life. Life stretches before you, filled with possibilities, and everything feels more intense: Sadness, despair, happiness. You believe—and it’s probably true—that any decision you make, however small, will significantly impact the rest of your life forever. Any mistake or misstep seems to take on huge and seemingly irrevocable proportions. I remember our college president address to us, as freshmen: “These will be the best days of your life, and also perhaps the worst.” They were certainly were the most intense days of my life–rivaled only by my pregnancies later on.

It seems crucial to have a companion at this time of life, a friend who is not a mentor, but more of a confidant or comforter. Sometimes books can fill this role, something not. As I write this, I’m thinking of the boy who was my best friend in high school. It was not a romantic or sexual relationship, but a true, genderless sort of close friendship. He was ‘safe’ and we were both serious scholars: it was sweet, innocent, perhaps a bit childish, more the sort of friendship 12-year-olds might have rather than high-schoolers. I don’t remember having any deep dark discussions about life with him, although we both dabbled in each other’s religious faith—He was Episcopalian, I Catholic of course, so there wasn’t really anything too exotic about that. We simply hung out together, had little adventures, and the best part of it was that we could make each other laugh, and we truly enjoyed each other’s company. And the night before I left for college, I stayed up to three in the morning talking with him, as we both confessed how scared we were about the upcoming experience and our futures as well. And sadly, it was college that finally separated us—we corresponded faithfully freshman year, but drifted apart as we became upperclassmen. Eventually we lost touch completely. I have not thought of him in a while, but it occurs to me now that we were so valuable to each other then, helping each other through a rough-and-tumble time of life. It helped to know that there was ‘another’ out there who understood us no matter what. And maybe that is what we seek most through our comings of age—not necessarily a lover or spouse, but just another person to keep us company through it all. That is certainly what Evan, from my novel, seeks, searching for his ‘novice master;’ and Aedan finds it in his ‘raven girl’ Marra, the girl from the other world.

There are other meaningful aspects to the coming of age experience—notably the sexual awakening (because let’s face it, that’s huge!), but also an intellectual awakening, when it becomes astonishingly apparent that the world is filled with ideas, with books, with stories, with history and all kinds of enticing knowledge. When you’re an adolescent, you’re starting the big encyclopedia of life, but by my age, at the X-Y-Z volume, you’re a little weary of it, and you know which parts can be skipped. Sill, I’d give anything for just a bit of that heady exhilaration I felt, those first few week of college, literally the weeks before I turned 18…when I was ‘coming of age.’

And here is a question for you, dear reader (if you’ve gotten this far). That old high-school friend of mine—do you think I should track him down, find out what’s become of him? Part of me thinks it’s intrusive but the other part is curious to see what became of him. But then such actions can always have unintended consequences: Some stones are better left unturned!  Yes, no, yes, no…What do you think? Answer me on Facebook or leave a comment here; I’d appreciate it!

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