March top reads: Books for an introspective coming-of-age spring

Photo by Olivia Brandon

As you might expect from someone whose major is english literature — I read a lot. While much of my reading time is spent on classic novels for various classes, many of these books have secured spots as personal favorites of mine. 

“My Antonia” by Willa Cather 

While the gorgeous depictions of natural landscapes through Cather’s incredible imagery would be enough to make this story an instant classic, the thought-provoking questions it addresses regarding gender and the immigrant experience make this work stand out amongst other Western novels. 

Beginning through the narrative lens of ten-year-old Jim Burden in Nebraska, we are taken on a journey that is infused with commentary on the gender norms of 1918, and the detachment an individual has from the hardships of immigration if they have not personally experienced them. Throughout the novel Antonia and Jim begin to grow apart from each other, specifically after they reach adolescence and Jim realizes his romantic feelings for Antonia will never be realized. 

“Some memories are realities and are better than anything that can ever happen to one again.” 

The character of Jim Burden is deeply in love with the past and clings to the idea of Antonia and his perception of her from their youth, rather than attempting to kindle a friendship with the young woman she becomes. 

“Now I understood that the same road was to bring us together again. Whatever we had missed, we possessed together the precious, the incommunicable past.”

“Under the Feet of Jesus” by Helena Maria Viramontes 

Even though it’s only March, “Under the Feet of Jesus” may end up being my favorite novel of 2024. Viramontes provides a commentary on the inhumane conditions Hispanic workers were subjected to in agricultural work,  racial oppression and the process of experiencing a crisis of faith. 

This novel focuses on the struggle of providing for one’s self and family as a migrant worker in what seems to be  California in the late 1980s. The novel poses the incredibly complex question of what you’re willing to sacrifice in order to protect your family and notes that family is not always established by blood. 

“That was all she had: papers and sticks and broken faith and Perfecto, and at this moment all of this seemed as weightless against the massive darkness, as the head she held.”

While Petra, the mother in the family, is passionate about her faith and spirituality, we see this strong belief begin to waver as the family finds themselves in more and more devastating situations. 

“Don’t let them make you feel you did a crime for picking the vegetables they’ll be eating for dinner. If they stop you, if they try to pull you into the green vans, you tell them the birth certificates are under the feet of Jesus…”

“The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger 

Holden Caulfield is the perfect example of a morally gray character. This perfectly imperfect snapshot of the life of a sixteen-year-old boy in New York City has you hooked from the opening lines and is an American classic for good reason. 

After being kicked out of boarding school, Holden spends the week wandering New York City experiencing the harsh reality of impending adulthood and the complicated nature of human sexuality. Holden’s relationship with his younger sister Phoebe is heartwarming and seems to serve as a sort of sanctuary for Holden whose adolescent world of innocence is slowly collapsing around him.  

“I’m the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. It’s awful. If I’m on my way to the store to buy a magazine, even, and somebody asks me where I’m going, I’m liable to say I’m going to the opera. It’s terrible.”

Holden’s flawed nature makes him an incredibly complex character as he is not someone to attempt to emulate, but in many ways, to relate to. 

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.” 

Each of these works exposed me to a way of thinking or perspective on life I had not previously been exposed to, challenged my preconceived notions about narrative structure and introduced me to morally ambiguous protagonists. 

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Josh

    “The Catcher in the Rye” is my favorite book

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