On the bildungsroman

A German term for the “coming of age” novel, the bildungsroman as a genre is as old as time, as timeless as humanity itself. Customs, traditions, a rite of passage, almost all cultures celebrate the liminal state of the “tweener” in their journey to adulthood. Novelists have pursued the topic of with a certain energy, if not enthusiasm. I would venture to say that most novelists are trying to understand their own coming of age by writing that experience into a work of art that may or may not mirror their own. Perhaps they a looking for redemption, perhaps they are looking for sacrifice, but regardless of their intent, they have left a broad trail of broken dreams, failed intentions, and busted lives. Coming of age is that moment experience supplants innocence, and the grown child looks out at the world with new eyes. The transition may be rocky, painful, full of disillusion, regret, a place where dreams go to die. We find out that we are mortal, imperfect, and finite, but what is worse, we find out who we really might be. The problem is that all young children will eventually turn into adults whether they want to or not. During that transition, youngsters are asked to make a series of decisions about their future, for good or bad. In theory, the bildungsroman is about those experiences and those changes that shape a young person, resulting in a new being. Do you have a favorite “coming-of-age” novel? I’d like to hear about it.