Coming of Age in Books and On Screen: Who Did You Learn From?

Books to Movies

“Are you there God? It’s me Margaret. We’re moving today.
I’m so scared God. I’ve never lived anywhere but here.
Suppose I hate my new school?
Suppose everybody there hates me?
Please help me God. Don’t let New Jersey be too horrible.
Thank you.”

And so begins one of the most classic, coming-of-age literary tales of all time. Debuting in theaters today (Friday, April 28) is the new film Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret.

Adapted for the screen from best-selling author Judy Blume, the book has graced so many young girls’ bookshelves around the world. It’s a coming-of-age tale that is told in such a relatable way (every word of the book’s opening lines are just as relevant today as they were in 1970 when the book was published) that we can’t wait to see the vision brought to life in the film.

Here we look at some of the more memorable books that celebrated coming of age on the page and later on the screen.

The Hunger Games

Author Suzanne Collins introduced us to Katniss Everdeen in the 2008 young adult novel The Hunger Games. After three successful novels following the heroine, it was destined for the big screen. Katniss was growing up in a dystopian future where the people were separated into districts and the youth would be sent to a “game” field to battle for their district, and their lives. One boy and one girl from each were selected from each district and everyone knew only one would come home alive.

For the film, Collins joined director Gary Ross to pen the script based on her source material. Jennifer Lawrence grabbed the lead role as Katniss and proceeded to explode in Hollywood with the first of many successful films, growing up in front of the world and ultimately launching an amazing career. In fact, the film was so successful that it spawned three more films — Catching Fire was followed by Mockingjay (split into two films). Over this series, we watch together as Katniss grows up in front of our eyes.

Fun Fact: Collins wrote a new book in The Hunger Games series in 2020 entitled The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes that will be released as a movie of its own in November 2023.

The Outsiders

This coming-of-age novel by S.E. Hinton was first published in 1967. Hinton was only 15 when she started writing the novel but 18 when it was published. The story is a first-person tale told by teenager Ponyboy as the story of the greasers and socs unfolds. Fights and various encounters between the rival gangs take place leading to one final rumble intending to finish the dispute, but can that really be the end?

In 1983 this novel made its way to the screen courtesy of director Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather). Coppola’s cast included a literal who’s who of young talent from the era. The lead role of Ponyboy was cast featuring C. Thomas Howell who had only appeared in E.T. to that point. Although Howell told the story, the cast included the likes of Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Tom Cruise, Diane Lane and even Leif Garrett.

Fun Fact: Although Mickey Rourke didn’t get a part in The Outsiders, Coppola cast him in his follow-up film Rumble Fish, which was also a novel by S.E. Hinton.

Harry Potter

Growing up is hard, but growing up a wizard can be magical. Children and adults alike lined up for the massive novels that spanned the Harry Potter book series that began with Philosopher’s Stone in 1997. The page counts seemingly increased from story to story, and led to a jump in youthful reading as people lined up to witness Harry grow up (along with us all).

To get on film, Potter was developed with the same cast of kids for the entire film series, a journey that would begin in 2001 and span 10 years. Daniel Radcliffe not only came of age as Harry (he was only 11 in the first film), but literally grew up alongside Emma Watson (who was 10) as Hermione Granger and Rupert Grint (who was 11) as Ron Weasley. They were three kids who were part of the action-packed franchise development that took the world by storm.

Fun Fact: Rowling negotiated to have a predominantly British cast as the principal roles as part of her original rights sale to Warner Brothers.

Little Women

Louisa May Alcott delivered her classic tale in two parts in 1868 and 1869 and we still see it adapted into film versions today. It’s the coming-of-age tale for the March sisters and follows their transition from children into womanhood. With so many period pieces often just focusing on the coming of age of men, Little Women offered meaty parts and meaty solutions for female roles.

Because of that, the source material has remained a positive landing spot for actresses throughout the years. Little Women has been put on film no fewer than seven times under the original title, and countless other films through the years were taken from the similar source material. Some of the most notable efforts included the 1933 take with Katharine Hepburn, the 1994 offering with Susan Sarandon and Winona Ryder, and the 2019 version with Saoirse Ronan and Emma Watson.

Fun Fact: It has sold an estimated 10 million copies and been translated into as many 50 languages through the years.

The Graduate

“Mrs. Robinson, are you trying to seduce me?” The 1963 novella by Charles Webb told the tale of a young college graduate, Benjamin, being seduced by an older woman. As he tries to escape the questions of what is next in his life, Benjamin begins an affair with the older Mrs. Robinson.

Director Mike Nichols brought the story to the screen in 1967 and won a Best Director Oscar for his efforts. A young Dustin Hoffman brought Ben to the screen while the lovely and talented Anne Bancroft took on the role of the seductress, Mrs. Robinson. The famous quote from the Hoffman scene about trying to seduce him is quoted and misquoted countless times to this day.

Fun Fact: Author Charles Webb had a follow up novel titled Home School, set in the 1970s that was published in 2007.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

The 2001 novel by Ann Brashares tells the tale of a group of friends who buy a mysterious pair of pants that fit each of them. They share the pants equally as they spend their first summer apart.

The coming-of-age tale was put on film in 2005 from director Ken Kwapis and starred a young set of actresses who have populated some of the hottest shows of the era. America Ferrera, Amber Tamblyn, Blake Lively and Alexis Bledel grow up in this summer with new loves, new jobs and secret relationships and those jeans keep them all connected.

Fun Fact: A sequel was released in 2008 that followed Lena, Tibby, Carmen and Bridget as they begin college apart and wonder if it will take more than pants to keep them connected.

Does the magic, spirit, and beating heart of the book remain for these titles?
Does it make the original source material that much better?
Or do you always prefer the book?
And do any of these titles sound like your own coming of age story?