Haruki Murakami was born in Kyoto, Japan, in 1949. He wrote his first novel, Hear the Wind Sing, which won the Gunzou Literature Prize, in 1979. Norwegian Wood, published in 1987 and dubbed “a masterly novel” by The New York Times Book Review, follows Toru, a Japanese man who looks back on his college days and short-lived romance with Naoko. The two students are still reeling from the suicide of a friend while in high school. As Naoko spirals downward and continues to struggle, Toru meets a new love, Midori.
Murakami is the author of several other novels as well as short stories and works of nonfiction. His work has been translated into more than 50 languages.
Now, let’s take a look at the 20 best romantic coming-of-age books (in no specific order) for your reading pleasure:
The Fault in Our Stars
Popular author John Green’s heart-wrenching novel The Fault in Our Stars follows the meeting and relationship of two teenagers with cancer, 16-year-old Hazel and 17-year-old Augustus. The two meet at a support group for teens with cancer and eventually, despite Hazel’s hesitation, fall in love. Hazel and Augustus make a trip to Amsterdam, where their relationship grows as they both walk an unimaginable journey that speaks to the unfairness of life and the incredible bond that love can create.
Author Sally Rooney’s novel Normal People, set in Ireland, follows the on-and-off relationship of Connell and Marianne, two high schoolers from different ends of the socioeconomic spectrum – he being from the lower class and she being from a wealthy family. The couple becomes intimate and as they get to know one another better, the dysfunction in Marianne’s family becomes an issue.
The two head off to the same college, with both having other romantic relationships, yet ultimately being drawn back to each other. Rooney’s book is a look at the sacrifices that sometimes need to be made to allow each other to grow.
Written in 1847, Wuthering Heights is Emily Bronte’s only work of fiction. The story follows Heathcliff and Catherine, who are childhood playmates, into young adulthood. Heathcliff is an orphan who was brought to Wuthering Heights and raised with Catherine’s family. Jealousies and thoughts of revenge ensue when Edgar Linton enters the picture.
Despite its being written in another era, Wuthering Heights is considered a classic because the trials and tribulations of love span the ages, and contemporary readers will relate to these memorable characters.
A Walk to Remember
Author Nicholas Sparks is beloved among fans of romantic coming-of-age novels. His books have been made into movies because his stories exemplify the joy, the complications, and sometimes the inevitable heartbreak of young love.
Published in 1999, A Walk to Remember is set in Beaufort, North Carolina, in the 1950s. Landon, a rebellious teenager, and Jamie, a minister’s daughter, are high school students who both take part in a Christmas play. By the time Christmas Eve rolls around, Landon is in love. Jamie, however, is holding back, and Landon will soon discover why.
There are elements of faith and miracles as a now-middle-aged Landon looks back on his high school days with fondness rather than regret.
Me Before You
British author Jojo Moyes’s novel Me Before You, the first in a trilogy, centers on Louisa Clark, a young woman from a small town in England, who takes a job caring for a quadriplegic man. Will Traynor, a wealthy former banker who can no longer do the things he loved before he was paralyzed in an accident, has attempted suicide and wants to die.
Will is at first moody and cynical with his caregiver until they begin to know each other. Louisa wants to show Will that life is still worth living, and love ensues in the process. Can Louisa change Will’s mind about wanting to die?
Never Let Me Go
Author Kazuo Ishiguro was born in Japan but raised in England. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2017 for his wide body of thought-provoking work.
Never Let Me Go is a dystopian novel set in 1990s England, where youngsters at a boarding school slowly become aware that they have no parents and were created for the purpose of, eventually, giving parts of themselves to people in need, until they can no longer give.
The story is told through the memories of Kathy H., now an adult in her 30s, looking back on her time at the Hailsham school, her friendships, and her love interest there. Kathy and her boyfriend, Tommy, hope against hope that their relationship will allow them a reprieve from their eventual fate.
Where the Crawdads Sing
Delia Owens’s debut novel Where the Crawdads Sing has it all – romance, murder, mystery, and the spectacle of a little girl growing up alone in the marshes along the North Carolina coast. Kya, abandoned by her family, forges a life on her own, evading the local authorities who want her to attend school. But growing up in the marshes, Kya is a student of nature and becomes an expert at identifying the flora and fauna surrounding her.
As a teenager, she meets Tate, who teaches her how to read. Eventually, the two fall in love but while Tate is away at college another young man, the popular Chase, enters the picture. Chase ends up murdered and Kya is put on trial.
Pride and Prejudice
Pride and Prejudice is quintessential Jane Austen, with a young romance blossoming between Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy during the turn of the 19th century. Written in an era when marriage was as much for financial security as it was for love, it shows how complicated relationships can be with proposals, refusals, wounded pride, and jealousy.
Their relationship begins with Mr. Darcy refusing to dance with Elizabeth, and ends with a marriage proposal. The soap opera that happens in between is what makes this book a literary classic for the ages.
To All the Boys I’ve Love Before
Bestselling author Jenny Han’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, the first book in a trilogy (followed by P.S. I Still Love You and Always and Forever, Lara Jean), follows Lara Jean, a 16-year-old half-Korean girl who writes letters to her crushes and puts them in a box.
Romantic and social complications arise when Lara Jean’s little sister, Kitty, mails the letters. A kiss in a hot tub with Peter (one of the letter recipients) is followed by rumors and confrontations, revealing the growing pains of coming of age in the modern day.
Stephanie Miller’s uber-popular debut novel Twilight is the first in a four-book series about Bella Swan, a young girl growing up in the Northwest who falls in love with Edward Cullen, a handsome vampire who has been frozen in time as a teenager, still attending high school even though he’s hundreds of years old.
Edward must learn to control his dangerous desires when he is around the beautiful Bella, but she insists she is not afraid of him. The imagination Miller used to update the ages-old vampire story for the modern world of teenage romance earned her millions of fans.
What is it like to be young and in love when the world around you is falling apart? Will your love survive when borders have disappeared and you are forced to move from place to place for your survival?
Exit West is a somber, dystopian novel written by Pakistan-born author Mohsin Hamid. He weaves elements of magical realism into his story about Saeed and Nadia, who meet while taking a class together and fall in love shortly before civil war breaks out in their country (an unnamed place in the Middle East).
Saeed and Nadia learn about magic doors that will take them to other places, and they soon become refugees and immigrants in foreign lands. The book was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2017.
The Gardener of Baghdad
The Gardener of Baghdad by Ahmad Ardalan begins with the classic theme of forbidden love between young people from different statuses and cultures: Ali is a gardener in Iraq who works at the home of Mary, whose father is a British general. The story takes place during the Iraqi Revolution of 1958.
Years later, a bookstore owner in Baghdad is cleaning out his store and comes across the story of the gardener of Baghdad. What he begins to read is the searing story of young love gone miserably awry.
Ahmad Ardalan was born in Baghdad, and a trip back to his home in 2013 inspired him to write The Gardener of Baghdad, his second novel.
Eleanor & Park
Written by Rainbow Rowell, Eleanor & Park follows the love story of two high school misfits – Park, a half-Korean teenager who doesn’t have many friends, and Eleanor, who wears baggy clothes over her chubby frame, has bright red hair and is a target for bullies.
Their relationship begins when he offers her a seat next to him on the school bus. As Park gets to know Eleanor, he realizes she has a rough life both at school and at home, where there is poverty and abuse. Eleanor and Park’s story is a reminder that while most first loves do not last, they are cherished and remembered forever.
Call Me by Your Name
Andre Aciman’s novel set in Italy, Call Me by Your Name, tells the story of a 17-year-old boy, Elio, who falls for Oliver, an older, handsome 24-year-old postdoctoral scholar who is staying at Elio’s family villa for the summer.
A friendship soon blooms between shy Elio and charming Oliver. When Elio confesses his deeper feelings for Oliver, the older man hesitates at first, but soon the two begin an intimate relationship that ends when Oliver returns to the United States. Aciman’s novel is an eloquent coming-of-age tale of blossoming sexuality, friendship, and how time does not erase our vivid childhood memories.
Looking for Alaska
Author John Green knows how to create compelling stories of young love and heartbreak while introducing modern-day themes. His second book on this list, Looking for Alaska, is a tale of a teenage crush at a boarding school.
Miles, a junior, meets Alaska through a mutual friend. He becomes infatuated with her even though she has a boyfriend. In telling the story of Alaska, Miles divides his life into “before” and “after,” as the reader eventually learns about the life-changing event that happened that year.
There is something sad and endearing at the same time to watch old people reminisce at the end of their lives. What makes Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook particularly teary is that Allie has dementia and has only fleeting moments of clarity. Noah reads a notebook to Allie, recalling their young love as teenagers and eventual life together after years of separation.
The Notebook was Sparks’s first novel and one of his most popular.
The Japanese Lover
Author Isabel Allende’s large body of historical fiction includes The Japanese Lover, set during World War II. Young Alma and Ichimei fall in love when she is sent from Poland to San Francisco to live with relatives. Ichimei is the son of the family’s Japanese gardener. The two are separated when the Japanese are forced into internment camps. How will things turn out in the end?
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Americanah is a tale of young love reunited. Ifemelu and Obinze decide to leave their home country of Nigeria, now ruled by the military, for the West. Different paths separate the couple for 15 years – she comes to America and he relocates to London – before they can reunite in their newly democratic homeland.
All the Bright Places
Jennifer Niven’s novel All the Bright Places deals with heavy topics of suicide and mental illness. Theodore and Violet are high schoolers contemplating suicide. Their meeting begins a friendship and then a physical relationship as they tour the sights in their home state of Indiana.
The book is partly autobiographical, according to Niven, who wanted to explore the hidden suffering of mental illness and survivors’ guilt, among other themes.
The Secret History
Love relationships during college form the backdrop of Donna Tart’s novel The Secret History, which follows a group of six “misfit” friends who are studying Greek and become involved in sinister activities at an elite New England school. Things snowball as they try to keep their deeds quiet, and their friendships become strained beneath the secrecy.
Frequently Asked Questions
What other books should I read by Haruki Murakami?
Kafka on the Shore (2002), The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (1995), and A Wild Sheep Chase (1982) are some of Murakami’s most popular books.
What is Haruki Murakami’s longest book?
1Q84 comes in at a whopping 1,300 pages.
He includes Raymond Chandler, Kurt Vonnegut, and Richard Brautigan among his literary influences.
What nonfiction books has Murakami written?
Underground and What I Talk About When I Talk About Running are two of the author’s nonfiction works.
What genre does Haruki Murakami usually write in?
While Murakami has incorporated elements of science fiction and fantasy into his work, his main genre is often described as magical realism.
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