book covers: Second Place, A Crime in the Neighborhood, Atonement, Montana 1948, This Tender Land, Ordinary Grace, God Spare the Girls

6 Degrees of Separation: Prize-Worthy Coming-of-Age Novels

It’s time for another adventure in Kate’s 6 Degrees of Separation Meme from her blog, Books Are My Favourite and Best. We are given a book to start with, and from there we free associate six books.

This month we start with 2021 Booker Prize nominee, Second Place by Rachel Cusk. Here’s the book description from Goodreads:

A woman invites a famed artist to visit the remote coastal region where she lives, in the belief that his vision will penetrate the mystery of her life and landscape. His provocative presence provides the frame for a study of female fate and male privilege, of the geometries of human relationships, and of the struggle to live morally in the intersecting spaces of our internal and external worlds.

With its examination of the possibility that art can both save and destroy us, Rachel Cusk’s Second Place is deeply affirming of the human soul, while grappling with its darkest demons.

Despite my affinity for novels that explore the darkest demons of the human soul, three weeks of thinking about this description have produced no thematic associations. So my starting point here will be Second Place’s Booker Prize nomination.

1. I’ve decided September will be my month for rereading. One of the top books on my TBRR (to be reread) list is A Crime in the Neighborhood by Suzanne Berne. This novel received the Orange Prize for Fiction in 1999 and was nominated for the Edgar Award for Best First Novel in 1998.

2. Another book near the top of my rereading list is Atonement by Ian McEwan. Like A Crime in the Neighborhood, Atonement also features a child who misinterprets something observed, with disastrous effect. Atonement was nominated in 2001 for the Booker Prize and for several other awards.

3. The first two novels are coming-of-age stories. Another such novel, also on my TBRR list, is Montana 1948 by Larry Watson, which opens with this statement:  “From the summer of my twelfth year I carry a series of images more vivid and lasting than any others of my boyhood and indelible beyond all attempts the years make to erase or fade them.” This is another prize winner, having received the Milkweed Prize for Fiction, sponsored by Milkweek, an independent publisher that “take[s] risks on debut and experimental writers.”

4. Another 12-year-old boy’s coming of age story I read recently is This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger. Like Montana 1948, this story pivots around relationships between white people and indigenous local people. This Tender Land was nominated for a Goodreads Choice Award for Historical Fiction in 2019.

5. I loved This Tender Land so much that I’ve decided to read Ordinary Grace, also by William Kent Krueger. Set in 1961, it’s the coming-of-age story of Frank Drum, a preacher’s son. This one won multiple prizes: Barry Award for Best Novel (2014), Anthony Award for Best Novel (2014), Dilys Award Nominee (2014), Edgar Award for Best Novel (2014), Left Coast Crime Award for Best mystery set within the United States. 

6. From a preacher’s son to a preacher’s daughter. I recently read God Spare the Girls by Kelsey McKinney. It’s the coming-of-age story of a young woman, one of two daughters of a well-known televangelist preacher, as she prepares to leave her tight-knit evangelical community to go off to the state university (against the wishes of her parents). Although the focus character here is older than those in the previous novels, her realizations are just as important and life-altering as theirs. Since this is a recent release, we’ll have to wait to see if it’s nominated for any awards.

This month’s 6 Degrees of Separation has taken us through a series of (mostly) prize-worthy coming of age novels. I look forward to seeing where other bloggers’ journeys take them. 

© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown

4 thoughts on “6 Degrees of Separation: Prize-Worthy Coming-of-Age Novels”

  1. I adored Montana 1948 when I read it, Mary. This Tender Land sounds interesting, too.

    I loved the prize winning link, and the turn towards coming-of-age stories. I feel like I need the hopefulness that these sorts of stories often contain, so might look for This Tender Land at the library.

    1. Mary Daniels Brown

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Jan. I highly recommend This Tender Land. And I’m looking forward to rereading Montana 1948, which I remember as very good also.

  2. If you’ve not read Atonement yet, you’re in for a treat (you have to give it a few chapters to get into it, but once there, it’s brilliant).

    1. Mary Daniels Brown

      Thanks, Kate. I read it several years ago and am looking forward to reading it again this month.

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