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Coming of Age: Non-Fiction

Updated: December 10, 2020

These are biographies or autobiographies about children or young adults who have overcome difficult emotional and/or physical situations.

Always running : la vida loca, gang days in L.A.
Rodriguez, Luis J., 1954-
Call Number: 301.450972 R695 2005

Luis J. Rodriguez, Poet Laureate of Los Angeles 2014 - 2016,  bravely, boldly recounts his life as a young Chicano gang member in East Los Angeles, with all of the violence, sadness and hopelessness that were part of that life.  He found a way out, through education and has made it his mission to help others.

Autobiography of a face
Grealy, Lucy.
Call Number: 616.994716 G786
Lucy Grealy's haunting autobiography of her struggles with a form of cancer that disfigured her face at the age of nine. It recurred causing more devastation to her face and her sense of self.

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life
Finnegan, William,
Call Number: 797.6092 F514

A coming-of-age memoir by the surfing-obsessed William Finnegan, who fell in love with the sport as a young boy, and continued surfing well into his adult life as an international journalist. Surfers and non-surfers alike will enjoy this well-written recounting of a life spent surfing.

Dreaming in French : the Paris years of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davi
Kaplan, Alice Yaeger
Call Number: 920.073 K165

Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, Susan Sontag, and Angela Davis were three American women who, in their youth, spent time studying and living in Paris  Living in France would sustain, nourish, and confirm a sense of independence and uniqueness in each of their lives.

Father figure.
Nichols, Beverley, 1898-1983.
Call Number: 823 N616N-2

Beverley Nichols was a prolific writer: plays, journalism, essays, short stories and was a public speaker known for his wit and humor.  All of this despite growing up in a home where his father was an abusive acoholic,whom Nichols tried to kill seveal times. For more books by him, check here Beverley Nichols.

The flame trees of Thika : memories of an African childhood, with a new introduction by the author
Huxley, Elspeth Joscelin Grant, 1907-1997.
Call Number: 967.62 H986-1 1987
Elspeth Huxley grew up on a coffee plantation in pre-World War I Kenya. For a young girl it was a time of adventure and freedom while her parents banked their future on the uncertainty of successful coffee harvests.

Girl in a band
Gordon, Kim, 1953-
Call Number: 789.14 G663
Kim Gordon comes out from behind her remote bangs and delivers a deeply personal account of a youth spent gravitating toward art, eventually merging her art with music as a founding member of New York indie rock icons, Sonic Youth.

Graveyard peaches : a California memoir
De Blasis, Celeste.
Call Number: 818 D286
A loving memoir of 1950's California and what it was like to grow up on an 1,800 acre ranch in the Mojave desert, with a strong-willed grandmother, sometimes harsh father, and loads of wild and domesticated animals.

Hole in my life
Gantos, Jack.
Call Number: 813 G211G

In 1971 Jack Gantos was caught in New York harbor on a boat filled with 2,000 pounds of hashish. He was sentenced to 6 years in prison. This is the story of how he "escaped" from prison by becoming a writer. Heartbreaking, challenging but ultimately triumphant. Told with a combination of acerbic wit and deadpan humor, he provides an attention to detail that elevate his experiences to engrossing entertainment, even (and especially) when he's poking fun at himself.


Hunger of memory : the education of Richard Rodriguez : an autobiography.
Rodriguez, Richard.
Call Number: 410 R696 1983

What price for assimilation and a university education?  In this candid autobiography, Richard Rodriguez recounts his childhood, knowing hardly any Englsh, and eventually earning a Ph.D, and becoming a Fullbright scholar at the Warburg Institute in London.  However, along the way he lost connections to his past, his family and his culture. 

I Am Malala: How One Girl Stood up for Education and Changed the World
Yousafzai, Malala, 1997-
Call Number: 370.95491 Y82-1

Learn the story of the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner ever, who risked her life to fight for the rights of girls in Pakistan to attend school. Malala was a young girl who would not be denied an education, despite being threatened by the Taliban, who shot her in the head. She lives in exile and continues to speak out for justice and human rights. In 2014, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

I shock myself : the autobiography of Beatrice Wood
Wood, Beatrice.
Call Number: 738.914 W873 1988

A late-bloomer who did not find her true art until she was forty years old. Prior to that she was the object of affection for both Marcel Duchamp and Henri-Pierre Roche who based his novel, Jules and Jim, on this real-life ménage à trois. And Francois Truffaut based his film, Jules and Jim, on the novel.

In pieces : a memoir
Field, Sally.
Call Number: 812.092 F456

Field’s painfully honest and frank memoir focusing on her childhood and the early years of her career is among the more resonant celebrity autobiographies. Field shows that her ability to embody the plucky, confident heroines of television and film stood in contrast to the crisis of confidence she struggled with as an individual. The end result is a well-written book that is raw, insightful, and cathartic. A welcome contribution from a woman who helped shaped the landscape of American popular culture.


It's what I do : a photographer's life of love and war
Addario, Lynsey.
Call Number: 770.9 A222

Lynsey Addario is a driven international photojournalist who has traveled to the world's hotspots to document and present life during conflicts, revolutions and wars.  She is candid in her writing and her photography.

Lab girl
Jahren, Hope,
Call Number: 570.92 J25

Geobiologist Jahren has created a memoir of a life in “big science” that started with a life as the daughter of a community college science professor in Minnesota. She worked her way up through academia in a world that is not often welcoming to women, but persevered and got her own lab. Her life story is woven between stories about the lives of trees, the plants that are Jahren’s specialty and her passion.


The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State
Murad, Nadia
Call Number: 323.4092 M972

The Nobel Peace Prize, 2018. This prize was shared with Dr. Denis Mukwege, "for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict." Nadia Murad is a member of the Yazidi community who lived in Kocho, northern Iraq. She and her family lived a peaceful rural life with other families until their village was caught in the crosshairs of ISIS in 2014. People were killed and Nadia was abducted, beaten, tortured, repeatedly raped, and became part of the ISIS slave trade. She escaped and this is her story. Even though she is free, ISIS has continued to issue death threats because Nadia continues to speak out.

Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina
Copeland, Misty.
Call Number: 793.324 C782

Misty Copeland overcame the odds of a dysfunctional home, racism, and a late start with ballet lessons to became a star and soloist with American Ballet Theatre.  No matter what the odds, obstacles or pain, in life and in ballet, her autobiography conveys her indomitable spirit and passion for dance.

Meatless days
Goodyear, Sara Suleri.
Call Number: 954.91 S9485 1991
An idyllic world in post-colonial Pakistan is the setting for a young girl who grew up in a culturally divided house, with her Welsh mother and Pakistani father.

Memoirs of a dutiful daughter. Translated by James Kirkup.
Beauvoir, Simone de, 1908-1986.
Call Number: 843 B386B
In this first volume of her memoirs, Simone de Beauvoir portrays her early quest for knowledge, adventure and independence despite the constaints of her bourgeois French family; primary and secondary school days and the rigors of a university education; her teaching experiences outside of Paris; and meeting Jean-Paul Sartre, her soul-mate and lifelong partner.

My beloved world
Sotomayor, Sonia, 1954-
Call Number: 347.092 S718

In this engaging memoir, explore one woman’s life and learn how she overcame barriers of poverty, race, and illness to achieve great success.

Nothing daunted : the unexpected education of two society girls in the West
Wickenden, Dorothy.
Call Number: 370.92 W893Wi

What happens when two Smith graduates decide to set off in 1916 for, what was then, the wild west of Colorado? Well, adventure, and a good deal more of it than either they or their families could imagine. Dorothy Woodruff and Rosamond Underwood wrote to their families back in New York, and it is from those letters that Woodruff's granddaughter has created this hearty tale.

Persian girls : a memoir
Rachlin, Nahid.
Call Number: 813 R119R
An autobiography from novelist Nahid Rachlin who escaped a traditional female life in pre-revolutionary Iran, and the tragedy of her sister who was forced into an arranged marriage.

A place to stand : the making of a poet
Baca, Jimmy Santiago, 1952-
Call Number: 811 B116B-1

When he was twenty-one years old, Jimmy Baca was illiterate and faced being put behind bars in a maximum security prison for selling drugs. Eventually he became one of our great modern poets.

Prague winter : a personal story of remembrance and war, 1937-1948
Albright, Madeleine Korbel.
Call Number: 943.7 A342

An engrossing and enlightening multi-layered history of Czechoslovakia, the Albright family, and World War II, through the eyes of the Czech girl who grew up to be the first female Secretary of State. A must-read for World War II history buffs or anyone wanting to gain a clear understanding of the events and decisions that led to the war.

The road from Coorain
Conway, Jill K., 1934-
Call Number: 92 C7665
This is an autobiography of a young woman whose determination takes her from the deserted Austalian outback of her family's large sheep ranch, to Sydney University, to the United States as the first woman president of Smith College,

Stand up straight and sing!
Norman, Jessye.
Call Number: 789.14 N842

A true diva is a distinguished female opera singer who strives for the best in her own work and expects the same from everyone with whom she works in order to create a marvelous experience for an audience. Jessye Norman is the full embodiment of a diva on stage and off, always striving for the best in life and art. 

On May 15, 2014, Jessye Norman was a guest at Aloud, and you can hear the podcast.

This will be my undoing : living at the intersection of black, female, and feminist in (white) America
Jerkins, Morgan,
Call Number: 301.412973 J55

The first essay in Morgan Jerkins’ debut collection is a story about how, as a young black schoolgirl, she had been rejected by the cheerleading squad because “they don’t accept monkeys like you on the team.” And thus begins a no-holds-barred catechism of what life is like for African-American girls and women. You’re gonna want to take notes. 

Unbreakable : my story, my way : a memoir
Rivera, Jenni.
Call Number: 789.14 R621

Jenni Rivera was strong, determined, talented and very smart. This is her autobiography told her way, as she did everything else, including damaging choices in men.  She toughed it out to succeed in the male-dominated world of banda and norteño music to become an international sensation.


When I was Puerto Rican
Santiago, Esmeralda.
Call Number: 301.45097295 S235 1994

Esmeralda Santiago was one of eleven children who grew up in a tin-can of a house in Puerto Rico, surrounded by quarreling parents and poverty. While living in Brooklyn with her grandmother, Santiago's ambition and hard work resulted in a Harvard education, and a successful career as a writer and film producer.

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail
Strayed, Cheryl, 1968-
Call Number: 813 S913S

Shattered at age 26 by her mother's death and the end of her marriage, Strayed did something way out of the realm of her experience--she took a solo 1,100-mile hike along the Pacific Crest Trail.