Spotlighting Our Favourite Coming-of-Age Listens
By Cameron Phillips, Sarunicka Satkuruparan and Kathryn Alley
As we celebrate graduation season and mark the end of an era for many, we decided to dive into our favourite coming-of-age listens that best capture what a nostalgic, bittersweet moment it is to enter a new stage of life.
Kathryn’s Pick: The Perks of Being a Wallflower, written by Stephen Chbosky, narrated by Noah Galvin
For me, coming-of-age stories do not necessarily need to revolve around a specific age or social group. Rather, I like to think of everyone as lifelong learners, continuing to grow and learn new lessons each year. That’s why one of my absolute favourite coming-of-age listens is Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower. This stunning audiobook encourages audiences to discover themselves in the protagonist, Charlie, as he navigates loneliness, trauma and a longing for healing.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower follows Charlie, a shy, unpopular freshman in high school, who is stepping into a frightening new environment and is desperate for connection. Charlie finds community with Patrick and Sam; Chbosky’s novel champions each individual’s truest self as they discover acceptance and freedom. As wallflowers, Charlie and his newfound friends go easily unnoticed and fade into the background, but Galvin’s narration beautifully celebrates how humanity truly thrives when people are given the chance to be themselves. The Perks of Being a Wallflower reminds us that we are all worthy of love and always capable of wholeness. This listen will inspire you to take notice of the wallflowers around us and find opportunities to become all that you were meant to be.
Cameron’s pick: I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, written by Erika Sánchez, narrated by Kyla Garcia
I don’t read or listen to many young adult/coming-of-age stories, but this was recommended to me by a friend, and straightaway I absolutely fell in love with it. One thing I simultaneously loved and hated about this book was the seemingly raw authenticity and complexion of the way grief is experienced, especially the grief of a young person. What’s more, there is a fantastic exploration of collective versus individual grief: that between the grief of a family and the grief of those who make up that family.
When teenager Julia’s sister Olga dies, an already simmering family is broken, and Kyla Garcia narrates to perfection the lowest of lows and eventual triumph over the grief for the deceased. With sarcasm and emotion, Garcia performs Julia absorbingly. I do wonder how much of the prose is based on Sánchez’ own experiences (or that of someone close to her), as it cuts deeply in complex, emotional and ecstatic ways.
It’s one of the best books I’ve read or listened to in a very long time, and I would highly recommend it to any fan of YA fiction, especially those who want to investigate the tough parts of our own psyche.
Sarunicka’s Pick: Normal People, written by Sally Rooney, narrated by Aoife McMahon
Normal People is a coming-of-age novel exploring first love, growing up and the complex world of being a young person. It follows Connell and Marianne as they grow up from being a popular boy and an outcast girl in high school to having their roles reversed at university. It tells the story of how two seemingly polar opposites can find comfort and connection in one another, and while they both feel alone and misunderstood, together they understand not only the other but themselves too.
The appeal of Normal People lies in the relatability, realness and imperfection of Marianne and Connell. Creating characters, especially those who are young, awkward and flawed, who don’t always make the right decisions or say the right thing, is a powerful and authentic capturing of young people. The ability to see ourselves in these characters is what makes this story so compelling. As Kathryn mentioned, ‘coming of age’ epitomises a journey rather than an endpoint, and the way Marianne and Connell continue to take this non-linear path of growth, miscommunication and mistakes pays homage to this notion. The story concludes with Marianne and Connell still having room for an abundance of growth, yet there is also an air of hope that they are ready to face it. This sums up the duality that coming of age often represents for most young people
Aoife McMahon’s narration is a seamless fit, and listening to this audiobook is an enjoyable experience. If you’re looking for a listen that is layered, at times messy and frustrating, but ultimately real, effectively capturing what it feels like to be young, then this is a listen worth checking out.