Move Over A Separate Peace
The Times They Are a Changing

A List of Young Adult Novels by Appalachian Writers
Collected by Phyllis Wilson Moore
Clarksburg, West Virginia



    Since its publication, A Separate Peace: A Novel, by John Knowles of Fairmont, West Virginia, has been a classic in coming-of-age literature. It’s a terrific choice for readers and teachers and ranks right up there with To Kill A Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye.
   In addition to the well-known coming-of- age books, I suggest teachers and parents offer readers additional choices of high quality works with more familiar settings and books reflecting life as we live it today.   
  Here are some of my suggestions for students from a background similar to those who live in small towns and small cities or on farms in the industrial, rural state of West Virginia. The late Dr. Jim Wayne Miller, a revered specialist in Appalachian literature, encouraged teachers to teach the local. I totally agree.   
    Many suitable coming of age books are available. This short selected list reflects some I’ve read.


West Virginia Related Books: Coming-of-Age  

These titles were written by authors from here, or by an author with a family connection to West Virginia; most are set here.) It is possible to build a comprehensive classroom library using these titles by finding out-of-print work via the internet.


Belton, Sandra. McKendree. The story is set in McKendree, a now demolished town in Fayette County, WV. In it the parents of Black children encourage them to volunteer in a segregated nursing home. The teens gain a new perspective on caring and learn more about each other. Belton grew up in Beckley, West Virginia.

Berkley, June Langford. Shannaganey Blue. This 46 page novella is a rural West Virginia story of two families: a poverty stricken family headed by alcoholic parents and their nearest neighbors, a hardworking and self-sufficient farming family. Berkley grew up in Ritchie County, West Virginia.

Bishop, John Peale. Act of Darknesss. A young man must decipher events: a wealthy uncle accused of rape; an overly familiar male servant; unkind behavior of older teen boys; the silences of adults he knows best. Bishop grew up in Charles Town, West Virginia.

Byars, Betsy. Goodbye, Chicken Little.  In an Elkins-like setting a young boy copes with an alcoholic uncle, a grandmother recently placed in a nursing home, and the recent death of his father.    

Byars, Betsy. Summer of the Swans.  A young girl takes care of her mentally challenged younger brother in a West Virginia town like Morgantown. Byers lived in Morgantown when she wrote this Newbery Medal Winner.

Byers, George. The Black Unicorn. A humorous novel related to being different and capable.

Carbone, Elisa. Stealing Freedom. A young enslaved girl attempts to reunite with her family and escape to Canada. Carbone lives in West Virginia part of the year.

Carbone, Elisa. The Last Dance on Hollyday Street. A self-determinedmixed-race young girl is forced to locate the white mother she never met.  

Corcoran, Jonathan. The Rope Swing. These “coming out” stories are also coming-of age stories.  Corcoran is a native West Virginian.

Cummings, John Michael. The Night I Freed John Brown is the tale of a boy at odd with his parents as he attempts to uncover and understand family secrets. Cummings grew up in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

Demby, William. Beetlecreek: A Novel. Set in a town patterned after Clarksburg, West Virginia, this is the story of a young Black teen boy coping with a new town, a new school, absent parents, and racial segregation. Demby lived in Clarksburg while attending college in West Virginia

Dooley, Sarah. Free Verse. The young girl in this story faces poverty, loss of loved ones, foster care, and grief. She uses poetry as an outlet. Dooley lives in Huntington, West Virginia, and works with autistic children.

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. Colored People: A Memoir is the memoir of the young Gates growing up in a small segregated town, Piedmont, West Virginia.  

Gordon, Jaimy. Bogeywoman: A Novel.  This is the story of a young girl placed in a psychiatric setting to “cure” her lesbianism and tame her creative spirit. Gordon lived briefly in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. She is still a frequent visitor.

Hickam, Homer H. Rocket Boys. West Virginia high school boys plan to win a national-level science project. To do so, they must acquire higher level math skills and use the machine shop know-how of miners in their remote town.  Hickam grew up in Coalwood, West Virginia.

Janus, Christopher. Miss 4th of July, Goodbye. The novel takes place in Montgomery, West Virginia, and is also a Disney film entitled Goodbye, Miss 4th of July.   Set in the World War I era, it is the story of immigrants and Blacks trying to fit in while facing local prejudices and the anger of the KKK.  Janus spent his formative years in Montgomery.

Knowles, John. A Separate Peace. Young men in a prestigious “Prep” school struggle with peer pressure, close same-sex friendships, rivalry, and group living, all the while aware they are to fight in World War II upon graduation. Knowles grew up in Fairmont, West Virginia and attended Exeter, a prestigious northern prep school.

Kinder, Chuck. The Silver Ghost. The trials of growing up are woefully captured in this novel. In it a creative high school junior struggles with being a rebel, being in love, being at odds with his parents, and his urges to experience life in the fast lane. Kinder is from the Huntington, West Virginia area.  

Laskas, Gretchen Moran. The Miner’s Daughter. New York: Simon & Schuster. A coal town teenager yearns for a different life. When opportunity knocks, she must choose between marriage to her high school sweetheart or moving to a progressive town with her parents. Laskas has deep roots in West Virginia.

Maillard, Keith. Gloria. A wealthy young college student must choose a path: her parents or her own.  Maillard, a former resident of Wheeling, is a proficient writer of coming-of-age fiction. I’ve listed a few of his titles but there are more.

Maillard, Keith. Morgantown. A young man attempts to adjust to the environment of a university and to his changed views on sexual identity and politically correct behavior.

Maillard, Keith. Running. Set in a town like Wheeling, the story follows the escapades of teens as they learn to drive, date, and figure out life. Maillard is from Wheeling, West Virginia.

Marshall, Catherine. Christy  is the author’s mother’s story.  Marshall grew up in Keyser, West Virginia, but was fascinated by her mother’s experiences in Tennessee.     

Maynard, Lee. CRUM is the story of a bright young boy with three goals: earn his high school diploma, leave the tiny town of Crum, located deep in the mountains of West Virginia, and see a naked girl. Maynard lived in the town of Crum, West Virginia.

Mehta, Rahul. Quarantine: Stories. A Parkersburg, West Virginia, native, Mehta’s stories are of a gay young man of Indian-American heritage struggling with coming-out in an often hostile, sometimes supportive, environment.

McCombs, Lisa A. Raspberry Beret. This youth novel is set in West Virginia. McCombs is a resident of Monongah, West Virginia.   

Myers, Walter Dean. Somewhere in the Darkness. The story unrolls on a trip from Harlem, New York, through southern states as a Black youth tries to get to know his usually absent father. Myers, born in Martinsburg, grew up in New York, but stayed in close touch with his West Virginia relatives.

He explored his ancestors’ period of enslavement in what is now West Virginia in Now Is Your Time! The African- American Struggle For Freedom. Myers’s memoir Bad Boy is suitable for the student struggling with coming of age issues. In fact, many of his titles work well for young teens. His novel Monster is frequently taught in high schools.

Naylor, Phyllis Reynolds. Shiloh is set in the area of Friendly, West Virginia. It is a touching story of a kind young boy and a dog in need of rescue. The later books in the series are also appropriate. Naylor is not a West Virginian but is married to one. She often sets stories here including the series he Boys Start the Wars.

Paterson, Katherine.  Bridge to Terabithia.  A story of friendship, tragedy, and grief set in rural Virginia. This has been adapted as a film. Patterson spent ten of her formative years in Charles Town, West Virginia.

In Paterson’s book The Pinballs. A group of foster children feel like pinballs but end up thriving.

Phillips, Jayne Anne. Machine Dreams. The Vietnam War encroaches on the lives of teens in a town named Bellington, West Virginia. Coming-of-age, young love and experimentation, family love and discord, are key components of this novel. Phillips grew up in Buckhannon, West Virginia.

Phillips, Jayne Anne. Shelter is set in 1963 in a summer camp for girls and is a brutal novel of the loss of innocence.

Post, Melville Davisson. Dwellers in the Hills could be considered a Western. Written when West Virginia was cattle country, it is the story of a young boy forced to lead a cattle drive to save his family’s beef farm. It takes place in Harrison County, West Virginia, Post’s home county.

Rylant, Cynthia. Missing May. The story takes place in Fayette, Putnam, and Kanawha Counties. In the novel, two low-income families live near each other in single-wide mobile homes. Their pre-teen children, a boy and a girl, receive love and support from an older, quite ill woman, May. When May dies they must find ways to cope with the loss. Rylant grew up in the Beckley area. This youth novel is dedicated to one of her West Virginia teachers.

Seabrook, Brenda. The Bridges of Summer takes place in South Carolina and is the story of a citified, mixed-race, artistic teen sent to live with her fraternal grandmother on a remote island where “color” is a major issue. Seabrook lived in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle.

Seabrook, Brenda. Finding India. This is the story of a recently jilted high school senior and the self-discoveries she makes as she uses money saved for college to instead travel to India.

Seabrooke, Brenda. Home Is Where They Take You In. The novel, set in California, tells of a poor but self-reliant twelve-year-old  attempts to overcome the life choices made by her alcoholic mother and her mother’s lecherous live-in man-friend.  

Seabrooke, Brenda. Judy Scuppernong. The novel takes place one summer in Georgia and tells the tale  of a young girl, a newcomer totown, with a single parent who drinks too much.

Settle, Mary Lee. Clam Shell. A college freshman escapes a date rape only to face criticism, as well as doubts of her virtue, by the college staff and her parents. Settle lived much of early life in Charleston, West Virginia.

Slayton, Fran Cannon. When the Whistle Blows. Set in the 1940's, this story relates the hopes of a young man to follow his father’s footsteps and work for the railroad. From Virginia, Slayton had railroading relatives in Rowlesburg, West Virginia.   

Walls, Jeannette. The Glass Castle.  In this memoir, children of creative dysfunctional parents search for a better life. Walls spent some of her formative years in southern West Virginia. It is also a feature film.

Ware, Cheryl. Flea Circus Summer is set in a town like Belington, West Virginia. This youth novel has a feisty female protagonist. Ware grew up in Belington, West Virginia.

Willis, Meredith Sue. Higher Ground: A Novel. This novel tells the story of an intelligent and free-thinking young girl growing up in a small West Virginia town. As she navigates high school, she struggles with issues of romance, as well as class. Willis grew up in Shinnston, West Virginia.

Willis, Meredith Sue. Meli’s Way.  A very bright New York City girl, Melisandre Rossi, just fourteen, is determined to find her own way into approaching adulthood. Her crush on one of her male teachers and the sexual advances of a family friend are two of many situations she learns to deal with.

Yep, Laurence. The Star Fisher. Yep is not a West Virginian but his Chinese mother and grandparents lived in Clarksburg, West Virginia. This is their story of adversity, opposition, and friendships in this strange-to-them culture. It is an example of the situations often faced by immigrant parents and their children. Yep lives in California and has explored his mother’s former Harrison County, West Virginia, home.

Yolan, Jane. Snow in Summer is set in Webster County, West Virginia, and is the Snow White story retold with a wicked snake-handling step-mother. Yolan’s deceased husband was from Webster County. Yolan set three books here but is not from West Virginia.


Book cover images and author photos on this page captured from various Internet sources.