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Top 10 Female Bildungsroman Books

The requirement of a coming of age book is that it must show all the stages of growth of a central character, from childhood to adolescence to adulthood. It may or may not be part of a series, but in all likelihood, the character must not come to a complete tragic end. A little older, a little wiser, a little more experienced... having learnt from the lessons of the past, the future can now be moulded with more certainty. 

But when we speak of coming of age books, how many of those relate to women? Here's a list of the few books I could think of.

>>1. To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee

Dealing with Boo Radley and watching her father Atticus Finch defend Tom Robinson, an African American accused of raping a young white woman, in a separatist America were the two significant events of Jean Louise Finch's life, and the repercussions resonate years after in Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman.

>>2. Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott

While Louisa May Alcott is better known for her Little Women -- Eight Cousins and its sequel, Rose in Bloom, often fall by the wayside. But honestly, watching Rose Campbell grow up with her eight unique and rambunctious cousins (including the very absent-minded but genius Mac) as Uncle Alec's foster daughter in nineteenth century America was bucketloads of fun and deeply satisfying.

>>3. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Go Anne!

Anne Shirley, the memorable, the wonderful Anne with an E. I have spoken about her here in a very different context -- but Anne's journey from an orphan to a Green Gables family member to Princeton teacher and then coming back to her home and her roots -- now that was worth reading again and again.

>>4. Mill on the Floss by George Eliot

So, here's Maggie Tulliver, who is born bold and adventurous, but who by the end of the book is rendered into a woman with a grave mien, and those sad, honest eyes. Maggie has a deeply affectionate heart and an unshakeable sense of duty, that shine through even an old family feud and a scandalous love affair with her cousin's fiance. 

>>5. Changeover by Margaret Mahy

The title alone suggests that change is coming, for Laura Chant who can tell when something bad is about to happen. When Laura's little baby brother Jacko gets possessed by the sinister Carmody Braque, she is forced to make a decision to change into a witch, and the decision is something she will forever have to live with. Making a commitment is as much a sign of coming of age as anything else, and this one has been released as a movie as well.

>>6. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Fanny Price got sent off to her richer aunt's family out of a misbegotten sense of charity, and from there onwards, we see her painstakingly adjusting to her new way of life. Jane Austen describes Fanny as a rather subdued girl with great integrity, who eventually becomes indispensable to the Bertram family in myriad invisible ways.

>>7. Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown

Aerin Firehair's greatest secret desire as the shy princess of Damar is to go on adventures, slaying wicked dragons in the process. The restlessness that she always feels being cooped up in the palace takes her travelling far and wide, and helps reveal her roots and her calling. Sometimes, wanderlust and adventurelust can also bring about a coming of age. 

>>8. Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford

'Tis not Brr... every day.

In Love in a Cold Climate, the friendship between Fanny and Polly stands the test of time as they seek to make new lives for themselves. Everyone finds love in different ways and at different times, and to each his/ her own -- Fanny's coming of age moment is that very realization. 

Love in a Cold Climate has been adapted as a BBC miniseries in 2001 as well. 

Jane has miles to travel...

>>9. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

We have seen Jane live a cruel, cruel life as an orphan taken in by her callous aunt, then packed off to an austere boarding school, then as a governess at a mysterious manor, and then as a bride whose wedding ends up in a disaster. Here too is growth, as tribulation after tribulation, Jane decides to courageously stick by what she thinks is right and fair (well, by the social mores of that time anyways), come what may.

>>10. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Mad, Mad, Mad!!!

When life throws lemons at you, you make lemon juice. Er, tea works too. 

That's Alice's primary lesson in Wonderland as things get curiouser and curiouser around her. At first, she sits down and cries, but soon she starts taking these unpredictable challenges in her stride and begins to question the status quo of aristocratic hypocrisy and arbitrariness. 

Do leave a comment if you could recommend some other coming of age books!


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