Remembering the way we were, what we read, and why it matters


Before you visit the Growing Up exhibit at Mineapolis Central Library – and before you read or re-read any of the books in that exhibit – take time to listen to the NPR interview with Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor. The delightful interview is a remarkable testimony to the power of books, reading, youth, and coming of age in the life of a poor immigrant kid living in an NYC tenement.

The books of Sotomayor’s youth, and those on display, are the classics on every teen’s reading list. They’re the “coming of age” novels you had to read then, and would probably enjoy reading more now that it’s not an assignment. They’re also the books your teen-age son or daughter, grandchild, or neighbor kid might enjoy, might even want to discuss with a wise elder. Or they may be the books from which that teen’s favorite flick was adapted – – and we all know the book is better.

Novels in the coming of age genre can actually help a sensitive teen who’s having trouble figuring out the craziness of life. The books can help a teen understand that he or she is not alone. They can open windows of the mind and aspirations. Listen to the Justice remembering – or read her autobiography due to be out this week.

If you are thinking that you yourself might have missed a beat back there, you might find some answers in the experiences of these temporarily disaffected teens. Best of all, in the end, the protagonist survives the angst and moves with perceptible ease into maturity.

All of these novels are on the shelves of the Minneapolis Central Library. The revolving display is chosen and replenished by Ruthann Ovenshire, a volunteer who combs the stacks for just the right read for the season or the mood.

Here are some coming of age books you may want to check out for a weekend read. Peruse the library exhibit or possibly dig around for a dog-eared paperback in the back of a long-neglected bookcase. Justice Sotomayor mentions other favorites, ranging from Nancy Drew to Romeo and Juliet to E.B. White’s Elements of Style. She also mentions several of these, with thoughtful reflections on the power of reading in her youth.

  • Sisterhood everlasting, by Ann Brashares
  • Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
  • The house on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros
  • The brief wondrous life of Oscar Wao, by Junol Diaz
  • Great expectations, by Charles Dickens
  • Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides
  • The virgin suicides, by Jeffrey Eugenides
  • White oleander: a novel, by Janet Fitch
  • About a boy, by Nick Hornby
  • The kite runner, by Khaled Hosseini
  • Never let me go, by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • A portrait of the artist as a young man, by James Joyce
  • The secret life of bees, by Sue Monk Kidd
  • A separate peace, by John Knowles
  • To kill a mockingbird, by Harper Lee
  • The bell jar, by Sylvia Plath
  • The catcher in the rye, by J.D. Salinger
  • A tree grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith
  • The joy luck club, by Amy Tan
  • The adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain