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8 Coming-of-Age Stories for Our Generation

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A staple in the literary and film community, the coming-of-age story especially appeals to young adults of a particular brand: the lost, the confused, the English or theater majors.  Unlike our well-adjusted friends, we dread the day we must leave our nice little college bubble and become real people with real jobs.  The end goal is not very clear, and throughout all the opportunities and setbacks that take us there, we are very aware of the process of growing up.   We are the ones who felt exactly like Holden Caulfield when we read The Catcher and the Rye in high school.  He wasn't a selfish, anti-social mess to us.  He was us.

Shane Salerno recently created a documentary, Salinger, about JD Salinger's life, and, according to this film, five posthumous Salinger novels will be published by 2015.  In the spirit of this news about the prized coming-of-age-author, I have compiled a small list of movies and books about becoming an adult and facing the challenges along the way.

My generation gets a lot of flack for being self-involved, lazy, and socially-inept whiners, like Holden. However, I would like to challenge the people making these claims to think about whether or not they felt certain when they made decisions that altered the rest of their lives.  Everyone "comes-to-age" at some point in his or her life and has doubts.  Doubt about self and uncertainty about the future aren't generational attributes; they're personal.   Kids born in 1992 understand The Catcher and the Rye, and kids born in 2042 will also understand it because in every generation, there are people who feel uneasy about the future and growing up.

1. Frances Ha (2013)

Frances has no money.  Frances moves from apartment to apartment.  Frances has even less money when she takes a spontaneous weekend vacation to Paris.  Frances dances.  Frances Ha, a lighthearted, charming black-and-white-film, takes us through the experiences of a 27-year-old who experiences life's pitfalls but handles them with an awkwardness that is somehow endearing.

2. The Fallback Plan (Leigh Stein, 2012)

Esther Köhler returns from college to her parent's home in suburban Chicago to nanny for a nice, young couple.  She dabbles with drugs and sex and experiences the dark side of suburban life.  Both a poignant and hilarious read, The Fallback Plan takes is the world through Eshter's eyes as she begins to notice that sometimes people are perfect on the surface but flawed underneath.

3. The Namesake (Jhumpa Lahiri, 2004)

Gogol resents his name and his Indian culture, so he changes his name and immerses himself in American culture.  Once he sheds his Indian name, he gains confidence, starts dating American girls, and forgets the type of world into which his parents were born.  The Namesake, especially a good read for people born of immigrant parents, takes the reader through the life of one man and events that altered his perception of his culture and his perception of himself.

4. How to Lose Friends and Alienate People (Toby Young, 2002)

A cynical, ugly, and immature 30-year-old Brit attempts to take New York one year, and five years later he has had his ass kicked in his personal and professional life.  The love affair with New York has ended.  This may seem like a stretch in the "coming-of-age" category.  However, Toby Young entered New York as an over-confident man with the maturity level of college freshman and left New York as a more experienced man.  The five years in between provide for some entertaining stories and quips about rich, beautiful people who live in New York, too.

5. The To Do List (2013)

This raunchy teen comedy starring Audrey Plaza as perfect, nerdy valedictorian-turned-sexually liberated college student shows the comically awkward side of growing up.  The 1990s, middle-of-nowhere setting provides even more entertainment for anyone who remembers the '90s or grew up in a small town where the best summer job was working at the creepy, abandoned community pool.

6. Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001)

Two boys, two girlfriends who leave them to study abroad, and one beautiful older woman who accompanies them on a road trip to a fictitious lake.  At first this may seem like any teen sex-comedy (it was described as "Latin American Pie" by some reviewers), but as the movie progresses, we notice some more serious themes about the fragility of friendship and the inevitability of death and suffering.

7. Freaks and Geeks (1999)

Not many TV shows and movies get high school quite right, but Freaks and Geeks does.   Lindsay and Sam Weir, students in the 1980s, deal with high school problems and do so without tired gimmicks such as Glee Club. Freaks and Geeks only lasted one season, but anyone who enjoys a realistic portrayal of the milestones and pitfalls of adolescence would enjoy it.

8. Almost Famous (2000)

A boy who grew up emulating rock music and rock stars gets the opportunity to go on the road with a band and has an epiphany on some harsh realities about life and once-idealized musicians.  Growing up entails witnessing your idols fall and your innocence shattered, and William comes out of the on-the-road experience with a different point of view.

By Andie Burjek, University of Wisconsin