Books + Comics

Postcards From the Edge of Innocence

Books that helped us come of age.

tumblr_lu3p72sFyy1qls0l4o1_400An Education
Lynn Barber
2009, Viking

When I was in high school, I looked forward to my summers off, because they meant I could do what I wanted, not what was assigned in class. Every June you would find me at my local Barnes & Noble, picking up a bunch of books to read over break. On one of these excursions, this little book with its pink cover caught my eye. I’d heard about the movie based on it, but I wasn’t that into movies or TV at the time. But I loved reading books—especially coming-of-age stories, or Bildungsromane. In this memoir, Lynn Barber tells her story about growing up in the UK in the 1960s. She was pretty much a straight-A student who had never missed a step or taken a risk—until one day when a rich man in a big car offered her a ride home. Little did she know that this man would change her life forever. I was such a “good kid” through high school; I never took risks or got into any kind of trouble. So books like this one, about other people’s brave journeys into adulthood, let me live vicariously through their dramas and dilemmas, and got me ready to experience real life on my own. —Dana

itltsiscover_1024x1024It’s Too Late To Say I’m Sorry
Joey Comeau
2007, Loose Teeth Press

Some of you might be familiar with Joey Comeau’s work from the web comic A Softer World, which I have had passionate feelings about since I first read it when I was like 13 years old. This story collection hurled me even deeper into my colossal, crazy love for Comeau. He is SO FUCKING WEIRD, and reading him is like getting special permission to be SO FUCKING WEIRD in the ways that you know you want to deep inside, which is one of the greatest feelings ever. For evidence, test out any of these stories, which are about math, and what happens when your family members turn into horror-movie creatures, and being able to come only while hearing Johnny Cash’s voice. They’re about the ugly/perfect things that you feel very intensely inside yourself but can’t figure out how to express—or whether you should. They make me want to take secret vows with you that I will never, ever tell another living soul, I promise. They make me want to have sex with Frankenstein and skateboard through a picture window on a dare. I don’t know. Joey Comeau is just the best and you’ll love him. —Amy Rose

Jane Austen
1818, John Murray

Persuasion is an underrated Austen, I think—at least it’s not as well-known or -loved as Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility. But it’s my favorite, largely because I just love the main character, Anne Elliot. Her family are a group of idiots, and everyone around her underestimates her—yet she still cares for and looks after them. She is in fact so loyal to her family that she allows them to persuade her to break off her teenage engagement with Frederick Wentworth, mainly because he is poor and lowly and therefore not a “good match.” Eight years later, Anne reencounters Frederick, now a rich naval captain, and let me tell you, this part of the story is sometimes painful to read, because they are clearly soul mates, and as a reader you have to silently watch them pretend not to be. Anne hides her bundle of regrets and resentments from everyone around her, believing no one can help her anyway—a feeling I can relate to. One of the reasons I love Jane Austen is that she was able to capture real human personalities with such dazzling precision that I always manage to see some part of myself in almost every one of her female protagonists. It feels like Jane Austen is very close friends with the women she writes about, which makes me feel that I know them too. Anne may not be as witty nor as sharp as Elizabeth Bennet, but she is just as deserving of happiness, and I love her for her quiet bravery. —Naomi

PhantomTThe Phantom Tollbooth
Norton Juster
1961, Random House

This book was my Harry Potter before Harry Potter, an exploration of fantasy and wonder like I had never experienced before. I was 11 years old and deeply in love with the solitude that reading books provided, and this book immersed me in a whole new world where the author, Norton Juster, and I were co-conspirators, where rhyme and reason were often endangered by senseless beings but children could save the day just through their love of learning. The main character, Milo, is a little boy who is chronically bored by his formal education. Then one day he receives a mysterious package—it turns out to be a tollbooth, through which he is transported to the Kingdom of Wisdom, with stops in Dictionopolis and Digitopolis. The mission he’s given there is to rescue the princesses Rhyme and Reason and restore order in the land; along the way Milo rediscovers the wonder of sounds, words, sentences, and math—a crucial quality that is not often emphasized in school. Reading The Phantom Tollbooth cast such a deep spell on me that I can safely say that the book is the #1 reason I became a writer. —Nova

lovelydarkdeepLovely, Dark and Deep
Amy McNamara
2012, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

There are very few books I’ll read twice; but I know that I’ll read Lovely, Dark and Deep over and over again for the rest of my life. It’s about this girl named Wren Wells who’s just about to go off to college when she gets into a car accident with her boyfriend, who dies on impact. Devastated, anxious, and grieving, she’s desperate to get away from any reminders of her life before the accident, so she moves in with her father, who lives in a remote city in the Northeast. “I came here because it’s pine-dark and the ocean’s wild,” Wren narrates. “The kind of quiet-noise you need when there’s too much going on in your head. Like the water and the woods are doing all the feeling, and I can hang out, quiet as a headstone, in a between place, a place that could swallow me if I need it to.” The author, Amy McNamara, is a poet, which explains why this novel is so beautifully written. It deals with trauma, depression, and grief so honestly that I want to buy a copy for everyone in the world. It’s actually hard for me to write this recommendation because Lovely, Dark and Deep resonates with me on a deep personal level, and I just want to blab all over the place about how IT’S JUST SO WONDERFUL. If you can find the time, READ IT. THIS BOOK = MY HEART. —Tyler

The-Age-of-Innocence-F81116LThe Age of Innocence
Edith Wharton
1920, D. Appleton and Company

This novel has everything: scandal, romance, unrequited passions, society gossip, and well-mannered treachery. It is the story of Newland Archer, a man of means who holds a certain social position, a man who yearns for one woman and a certain kind of life while preparing to marry another because he does what he is supposed to do. This is also a novel about women like the Countess Olenska, the one Archer truly loves, who are forced to stay in bad marriages, and women like May Welland, Archer’s fiancée, who maneuver to force good men into respectable marriages because doing what is right is more acceptable than allowing people to live and love how they truly want. Wharton writes with exquisite attention to time and place, and describes unrequited passion and high-class frustrations with elegant condemnation. She shows us that there never really was an age of innocence, no matter how desperately the characters in her novel yearned for one. This is a timeless book. —Roxane

Live Through This coverLive Through This
Mindi Scott
2012, Simon Pulse

In a lot of ways Coley’s life seems like that of any other normal teenager. She’s on the dance team and last year she was voted the freshman girl with the best smile. She’s going through that innocent and amazing experience of a crush evolving into something more. But she also had a blow-out fight with her best friend, which has something to do with the incidents that Coley is trying to ignore, trying to pretend are nightmares—or good dreams that become nightmarish: she’s being sexually abused by someone she loves. I ached for Coley as I read this book. I cried. I felt physically ill. Coley’s sweet romance with Reece helped me live through the darkness with her, as did the beautiful writing, and above all, knowing that her story needs to be told, because too many people live through their own versions of it in secrecy. I’ve never read such a sensitive, realistic portrait of a girl dealing with this kind of loss of innocent trust and all of the feelings that go with it, especially the shame and the confusion. Live Through This is a painful read, but it’s also powerful, hopeful, and essential for breaking the silence. —Stephanie

6a00d83453aade69e200e54f6a420c8834-800wiNever Let Me Go
Kazuo Ishiguro
2005, Faber and Faber

This book is about a peculiar English boarding school where the children are clones who must keep their organs healthy in case their “normals” (i.e., the people who they were cloned after) need them. The story follows Ruth, Kathy, and Tommy, who form a strong friendship as children, and follows them as they navigate their way into adulthood. They fall in love and struggle to act like normal human beings (like all of us do). What I love most about Never Let Me Go is that it fits into so many different genres. It’s a romance novel, a coming-of-age narrative, and a unique sci-fi story all in one. It’s a beautiful book, but I warn you: it’s also a devastating one. —Hazel

girls-of-riyadhGirls of Riyadh
Rajaa Alsanea
2007, Fig Tree/Penguin Books

I found this book when I was traveling in Saudi Arabia and needed something to read. I hadn’t heard of it, nor did I realize the significance of its being sold in a mainstream bookstore. Just a few years earlier, when it was released in Saudi Arabia, Rajaa Alsanea’s home country, the book was banned by the country’s government and was available only on the black market—where it became a bestseller. A few months later it was taken off the forbidden list; by the time I found it, the book had been translated into English and several other languages. Reading it, it’s hard to understand what made it so controversial in the first place: It’s about four young Saudi girls who talk to one another about their personal lives over email. They don’t hold anything back, discussing their love lives, their careers, and the challenges of living under a regime that forbids dating, listening to Western music, driving while female, and even camera phones. Reading about the minutiae of their day-to-day existence helped me relate to them, and it taught me a lot that I hadn’t yet understood about Middle Eastern culture. It’s also just a fun, gossipy read. Some people compare it to Sex and the City or Gossip Girl, and I really really hope that it takes after those books and gets turned into a movie or a show! —Dana

tumblr_mhao85zNLi1qbxygso1_1280Wuthering Heights
Emily Brontë
1847, Thomas Cautley Newby

There are some Wuthering Heights detractors out there, and in order to beat them off the jump, let me start by telling you what they’re going to say. They’re going to say that the novel is a jumbled mess, vaguely incestuous, with unlikable characters. They’re going to say it’s overwritten and undercooked, as though it was written by a 16-year-old girl on speed. To which I say, HELL YEAH it is.
     It’s true that Wuthering Heights is kind of crazy. There’s a framing narrative, the action sprawls over a few generations, and yes there is a kinda pseudo-incestuous romance. But I find the book hypnotic, and its descriptions of love lush and vivid and soul-shaking. Heathcliff and Catherine’s relationship is a grand, transcendent, soul-mate situation that’s no less than a religious experience. Is that what love feels like to me? No, it is not. But who cares? Wuthering Heights is a romance novel, an elegy, and a tool for pure escapism. I’m not saying that I will name the child that is currently being formed in my belly Heathcliff, but the thought has crossed my mind about a thousand times. —Emma ♦


  • SWIZZLEFAIRY22 April 25th, 2013 11:25 PM

    Congrats Emma! I always love your book reviews but, I wish you guys did a list for music. Also, Better Than Running At Night by Hillary Frank is awesome.

    • Anaheed April 25th, 2013 11:30 PM

      We do! Scroll down this page; the ones labeled Music are what you’re looking for.

      • SWIZZLEFAIRY22 April 25th, 2013 11:41 PM

        Thanks! Will there be music pertaining to the Age Of Innocence theme?

        • SWIZZLEFAIRY22 April 25th, 2013 11:43 PM

          Oops nevermind, I found it!

    • catfork April 26th, 2013 9:00 AM

      Agreed! That book is fantastic! She was a alumna of my High School and came back to talk about it right when it first came out- it’s definitely a book I’ve read over and over.

  • Maryse89 April 25th, 2013 11:30 PM

    This is such an amazing amazing amazing collection of books!!! Wow, I think it’s the best one yet!

    The Phantom Tollbooth is really incredible and along with Alice in Wonderland is on my ‘My Future Kids Absolutely Have to Read This’ list…

    And Never Let Me Go made me cry more than any other book written in the past decade (interesting: Carey Mulligan stars in movie adaptations of two of the books on this list!?)

    Two other really great books about innocence ‘lost’ and coming of age are ‘I Capture the Castle’ and ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn’. Even though I’m old old old, every time I read them I get instantly transported to the way I felt when I was in my early teens…

    • AliceS April 26th, 2013 6:22 AM

      I was going to write as a great book about innocence lost “I capture the castle” because it’s so great and that I usually I don’t like movie adaptations of books but two of these books inspired two great film with Carey Mulligan, then I read your comment.

      • AnaRuiz April 26th, 2013 5:55 PM

        Gosh I hated “I Capture the Castle.” It felt like a 20th century Jane Austen spin-off! If it weren’t for Topaz the book would have been sheer junk.

        • AliceS April 27th, 2013 6:44 AM

          No, really? You hated it? Well, everyone has its taste ^^

  • Katherine April 25th, 2013 11:42 PM

    I love the Phantom Tollbooth so much! Thanks for featuring it on your list. Another really wonderful book is Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl, one of my all-time favorite books.

  • Julianne April 26th, 2013 12:43 AM

    I’m reading Persuasion for class right now!

  • Luce April 26th, 2013 3:54 AM

    I have read and reread The Phantom Tollbooth soooo many times, I just love it. There are so many wonderful moments in it and so many weird cultural references, like at one point the characters meet this kid who is .48 of a child, because every family has 2.48 children. Plus there’s this scene where they’re eating, and they eat subtraction soup, like the more you eat of it the hungrier you feel.

    And Wuthering Heights, despite being Bella Swan’s favourite books, is so fantastic. I read it on holiday and it just chewed me up and spit me out. It’s a soap opera but 10x more intense, like The Young and the Restless on crack.

  • TessAnnesley April 26th, 2013 4:35 AM

    Emma will have the most awesome baby ever because they’re like metaphysically soaking in Rookie as an experience and that will make them amazing :D xoxox

    what a mumma you’re gonna be!!!

  • Lea April 26th, 2013 4:48 AM

    Roxane, “elegant condemnation” was so beautiful and perfect.

  • Elizabete April 26th, 2013 5:17 AM

    Congratulations, Emma ♡ Happy baby having this awesome mommy!
    I Love Wuthering Heights and Kate Bush song and just stuff related to it, Heathcliff is a pretty name, however I’m not sure if it’s a good name for a child, you know, he didn’t have the nicest life after all…

  • Tallulah April 26th, 2013 6:10 AM

    I’ll have to read a lot of these books, An Education sounds really good! Wuthering heights is probabky my favourite book, it intrigues me so much

    • Tallulah April 26th, 2013 6:15 AM

      Also phantom tollbooth is great…

  • insanejane April 26th, 2013 6:39 AM

    OOOOHH ! So much perfect books that I’m in need to read…. but please, stop ! because i’m currently on my phase “stop buying books and start reading books you bought” :)
    I’m just asking you if Persuasion is in a really hard elevated language or not ?.. I’m just anxious because I’m french and I need to read it this summer ;) in a hurry to read it but afraid to do not understand ;)
    And Congrats Emma ! I wish you happiness ! (and I love how you said that :) “the child that is currently being formed in my belly “)
    THANKS Rookie to be so perfect with amazing writers ! <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3

  • sneakybacon April 26th, 2013 6:49 AM

    THE BLOODY CHAMBER SHOULD BE HERE!!! this probably the best most complicated book i have ever read. its reads easy, a selection of short stories parodying famous fairytales, bluebeard, puss in boots, beauty and the beast, little red riding hood. but the more you delve the darker and the more deadly the stories become as we follow each female protagonist through the innocence of virginity to the, often deadly “coming of age”. this book deserves its whole article when it comes to ‘the age of innocence’, showing us how modern society perceives women and how fairy tales maybe are to blame. angela carter is a beautiful, descriptive, thought-provoking, feminist writer and i think everyone should read, or even better, study some of her work.

    • shosanna April 26th, 2013 2:31 PM

      I agree! I had to read it for part of my English course at Uni and I’d never heard of it before but I absolutely loved it – one of my favourite books I’ve had to read as part of my studies. I wrote an essay on the eponymous story in the collection, it really is full of symbolism and lovely details. I really recommend it!

  • Chloe22 April 26th, 2013 9:05 AM

    This list is awesome, and I love most of the books on here, but can I recommend Lauren Myracle? She writes all about coming of age, puberty, first dates, etc. Some of them are just really funny, and then others are about more serious topics. One of her trilogies is actually in email form like Girls of Riyadh.

  • catfork April 26th, 2013 9:06 AM

    “Ella Enchanted” by Gail Carson Levine is so amazing- I always loved fairy tales, but this book is so much more than a cinderella story. Please don’t judge the book by the ABOMINATION that was the movie version. There’s a lot of chatter about why people hate Anne Hathaway, but for me it’s because she starred in that disaster.

    • lizzyheinie April 26th, 2013 6:02 PM

      I have SUCH strong feelings about Ella Enchanted. The movie was beyond a letdown. I agree the book is incredible and definitely worth a read!! Especially if you’re one of those people (like me) who love fairy tales that you didn’t realize were fairy tales.

  • raggedyanarchy April 26th, 2013 9:55 AM

    Ah! Never Let Me Go! It’s such a sad book! But also amazing. Anyway, it’s a must-read.
    When I was little I loved Cathy Cassidy’s books! Indigo Blue and Dizzy were some of my favorite coming-of-age books.

    • all-art-is-quite-useless April 28th, 2013 7:40 AM

      ahhh I used to adore Cathy Cassidy’s books! Did any of you guys read Jacqueline Wilson’s books? They were some of my favourite growing-up books when I was younger… but also WHUTHERING HEIGHTS. All the while when I was reading the list I was thinking “whuthering heights has to be on here, its got to be”, and “Wuthering Heights is kind of crazy” is pretty much a perfect description of the book – also congratulations on the baby, Emma! I’m sure anyone considering Heathcliff as a baby name will be a wonderful mummy

  • I.ila April 26th, 2013 10:09 AM

    Sister of My Heart is a book about girls growing up in changing India – they watch the social standing of their family change as the money disappears, while falling in love and discovering secrets about their family. I really recommend this!

  • Abby April 26th, 2013 12:13 PM

    WUTHERING HEIGHTS AHHHH YESSS. I literally love that book so incredibly much I can’t even stand it.

    Also: If anyone wants a good coming of age/learning about life/becoming a woman book, ~~With My Body by Nikki Gemmell~~ is a really, REALLY good one. It’s also got some erotic parts, so that’s fun ;)… and it experiments with d/s in a healthy relationship. I’ve read the thing at least ten times in the past year (I know) and it’s basically amazing. So.

  • spudzine April 26th, 2013 1:35 PM

    Girls of Riyadh sounds like something that this world NEEDS. It was only yesterday that I learned of the disgusting ruling in Saudi Arabia that states women who drive will get lashed. They get LASHED. And the Saudi government says that it’s “in Islam”, which is NOT TRUE, since I myself am a Muslim. There is no where in the religion that I practice where it says a women can’t drive. It DOES say that physical violence is something that should not be done, so I don’t understand what the Saudi government is trying to prove. I applaud the author of this groundbreaking read for telling people the REAL issues Saudi women face.

  • wanderlusted April 26th, 2013 4:06 PM

    Love these, and also love the below:

    His Dark Materials (the third in the series, The Amber Spyglass, is about growing up and so beautiful)
    Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings
    Madeleine L’Engel books

    • AnaRuiz April 26th, 2013 5:57 PM

      Madeleine L’engle! She’s the freacking bomb.

    • lizzyheinie April 26th, 2013 6:04 PM


      I read them like..oh my gosh, probably six or seven years ago! I need to go back and find those again now that I’ve actually been through high school and can probably understand them better. Thanks for reminding me!

      • lizzyheinie April 26th, 2013 6:05 PM


        • Amy Rose April 26th, 2013 6:44 PM

          Whoa, this is a REALLY good reminder to review those books. I loved them so much.

      • rhymeswithorange April 26th, 2013 7:53 PM

        THE JESSICA DARLING BOOKS! They were my soul food in high school! I love them so much

  • Randi Melberg April 26th, 2013 4:22 PM

    Hazel, I didn’t finish your review of Never Let Me Go, and therefore never read your warning about how devastating it is. Which is why I’m crying right now.

  • AnaRuiz April 26th, 2013 5:56 PM

    Remember the Rookie bookclub everyone!

  • AnaRuiz April 26th, 2013 5:57 PM

    ANNE OF GREEN GABLES AND ALL OF ITS FOLLOW-UPS!!! I’m a devote addict to those. :)

    • Sue Denim May 11th, 2013 1:44 PM

      YES! Especially Anne of the Island.

  • drdischord April 26th, 2013 6:03 PM

    The Phantom Tollbooth! My favourite book in the world – thus, this username. It’s so rare that I find anyone else who’s read it. Rookie, as ever, has everything I love!

    Seconding the above suggestion of ‘I Capture the Castle’, which is a very good book for holidays in winter/spring. Set aside some time and allow yourself to be wrapped up in Cassandra’s life, and keep tissues nearby!

  • Mayabett April 26th, 2013 10:02 PM

    I’d also add Laurie Halse Anderson. Her books are heart-wrenching but important reads. Really changed my perspective on things.

  • damdayy April 27th, 2013 7:51 AM

    Persaepolis by Marjane Satrapi. It really is an amazing graphic novel; a girl comes of age during the Iranian revolution.

  • Roz G. April 27th, 2013 3:20 PM

    PLEASE NAME YOUR CHILD HEATHCLIFF EMMA! hahaha it would be the coolest thing ever

  • loonylizzy April 30th, 2013 6:48 PM

    i adore the phantom tollbooth!!! <3

  • Sue Denim May 2nd, 2013 3:21 AM

    HEATHCLIFF! Last year for my birthday my boyfriend danced outside my window to Wuthering Heights at midnight. He’s the best.

  • Nikilodeon May 3rd, 2013 7:51 AM

    yesss!! wuthering heights!

    i also loved louise rennison’s Georgia series (hilarious and fab) and Diana Wynne Jones’ Chronicles of Chrestomanci series.

  • honeychurch May 8th, 2013 8:40 AM

    Loved this – Wuthering Heights has stuck with me since I was 16 (24 now, every type I type those numbers actually I can’t believe it myself), the book is so much a part of who I am, though its about 2 flawed human beings, who are not quite of this world, which is probably why I relate to it so much. Also An Education was a v insightful read, Lynn Barber is a fantastic journalist, but it also made me think I’d wasted my years being insecure in college!