Our teens and twenties are fraught with emotion. Learning who you are. Finding your place in the world. Making reckless decisions. Perhaps that’s why we relate so much to literature – we’re able to see ourselves in these characters. Especially in coming of age short stories.
High school students in particular are searching for glimpses of themselves in the texts they read. We all know that students are more engaged when they can relate to the material.
Keep reading to see my go-to coming of age short stories.
First, we have to define “coming of age”. Simply put, a coming of age short story is one that focuses on the growth of the protagonist from childhood to adulthood. These stories typically focus on internal conflict and monologues over action, and involve the protagonist undergoing emotional changes.
Many coming of age short stories follow the same basic structure:
- Exposition: Youthful and naive protagonist (childhood stage)
- Turning Point: The protagonist makes a decision that leads to a change
- Initiation: an experience that bridges childhood and adulthood
4 examples of coming of age short stories
I was first introduced to this short story a few years ago while I was serving as a co-teacher in an English 1 (9th grade) class. “Marigolds” tells the story of Lizbeth, a young girl growing up poor in a rural area. Throughout the story, the reader watches Lizabeth as she wrestles with the transition from childhood to adulthood (or at least a more mature state of mind).
“Marigolds” is perfect for a study in close reading.
“The Scarlet Ibis”
Another favorite, “The Scarlet Ibis” contains one of the most memorable last lines: “For a long, long time, it seemed forever, I lay there crying, sheltering my fallen scarlet ibis from the heresy of rain.” The imagery. The symbolism. Both make this story ripe for analysis.
Readers trace the nameless narrator’s struggles as he comes to terms with having a disabled younger brother. As in Lizabeth’s case, hastily made decisions lead to the destruction of something precious.
Unlike “Marigolds” and “The Scarlet Ibis”, which are typically taught in ninth grade, John Updike’s short story “A&P” is often found in American Literature courses (which in many places is eleventh grade).
Enter Sammy, a young cashier at the local A&P grocery store. Add in three girls in bathing suits, some hormonal young boys, and a boss who’s a stickler for the rules. “A&P” examines the moment when you decide to take a stand, and the consequences of those actions.
“The Story of an Hour”
Another American literature staple, “The Story of an Hour” detours from the other coming of age short stories on this list in that the protagonist, Louise Mallard, is an adult, not a child or teenager.
Age aside, this Kate Chopin classic ticks the other major boxes for a coming of age story: focus on internal conflict and monologue and an emotional change.
Readers watch as Mrs. Mallard undergoes a rollercoaster of emotions over the span of an hour. While not transitioning from childhood to adulthood in the traditional sense, Mrs. Mallard does go from the dependence and subjugation of an 18th-century wife to the freedom and independence of a well-positioned widow.
There you have it. My top four coming-of-age short stories. What are your must-teaches? Comment below.
Looking for some ready-made, no prep short story resources? Check out these, including the best-selling “Marigolds” Close Reading.