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

 

                         

     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.
   There are many other suitable coming of age books.  This short selected list reflects some of those I’ve read.

 

West Virginia Related Books: Coming-of-Age  

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

 

Belton, SandraMcKendree  The stoy is set in a now demolished town in Fayette County, WV, named McKendree where parents of local black children encourage them to assist 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 LangfordShannaganey 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 prosperous farming family. Berkley grew up in Ritchie County, West Virginia

Bishop, John PealeAct of Darknesss.  A young man must decipher events he sees: 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, BetsyGoodbye, 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, BetsySummer of the Swans.  A young girl takes care of her mentally challenged younger brother in a WV town like Morgantown.  Byers lived in Morgantown when she wrote this Newbery Winner.

Carbone, ElisaStealing Freedom.  A young enslaved girl is determines to reunite with her family and escape to Canada.

Carbone, Elisa.  The Last Dance on Hollyday Street.  A self-determined mixed-race young girl is forced to locate the white mother she never met.  Carbone lives in West Virginia part of the year.

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

Cummings, John MichaelThe 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, JrColored People: A Memoir is the story of the young Gates growing up in a small segregated town in West Virginia.  Gates grew up in Piedmont, WV.

Gordon, Jaimy.   Bogeywoman: A Novel.  Tells 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 and is still a frequent visitor.

Hickam, Homer H.  Rocket Boys;   This is the story of West Virginia high school boys planning to win a national level science project.  They must acquire higher level math skills and use the know-how of miners in their remote town.  Hickam grew up in Coalwood, West Virginia.

Janus, ChristopherMiss 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 will be sent to fight in World War II upon graduation.   Knowles grew up in Fairmont, West Virginia and attended Exeter, a prestigious northern prep school.

Kinder, ChuckThe Silver Ghost.   The trials of growing up are woefully captured in this novel.  A creative high junior boy 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 and currently lives in Ireland.  

Maillard, KeithGloria. A wealthy young college student must choose a path: her parents or her own.  Maillard, a former resident of Wheeling, is a frequent writer of coming-of-age fiction and I suggest teachers check out his titles.

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, KeithRunning.  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, CatherineChristy (the author’s mother’s story).   Marshall grew up in Keyser, West Virginia, but was fascinated by her mother’s story of Tennessee.     

Maynard, LeeCRUM 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 getting a girl naked.  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 ARaspberry Beret.  This is one of McCombs’ youth novels set in West Virginia.  She 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.

Naylor, Phyllis ReynoldsShilo 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.  Naylor is not a West Virginian but is married to one.  She often sets stories here.

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.

Paterson, Katherine.  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 Belington, 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 AnneShelter.  Set in 1963 in a summer camp for girls, Shelter is a brutal novel of the loss of innocence.

Post, Melville DavissonDwellers 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, CynthiaMissing 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. The 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 girl and the self-discoveries she makes as she uses money saved for college to instead travel to India.

Seabrooke, BrendaHome Is Where They Take You In. The novel, set in California, tells of a poor but self-reliant twelve-year-old girl’s attempts to overcome the life-style of 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 is the story of a young girl, a newcomer to town, with a single parent who drinks too much.

Seattle, Mary LeeClam 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, 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, JeannetteThe 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.

Ware, Cheryl.  Flea Circus Summer is set in a town live Belington, West Virginia, and it a youth novel with 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 navigateshigh school she struggles with issues of romance, as well as class.   Willis grew up in Shinnston, West Virginia.

Willis, Meredith SueMeli’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 a well done 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, JaneSnow 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.

 

 

 

A different version of the list:

From the Imaginations of West Virginia Authors:
Selected Coming-of-Age Novels and/or
Short Fiction Suitable for Young Adult and Adult Readers.

This version of the list also notes the related West Virginia county. An asterisk indicates that all or some portion of the work takes place in West Virginia.  Phyllis Wilson Moore    2017

 

* Post, Melville Davisson.  Dwellers in the Hills. G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1901.         Harrison

*Bishop, John Peale.  Act of Darkness. Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1935.                  Jefferson County 

*Demby, William.  Beetlecreek: A Novel. Avon Books, 1950.                               Harrison

Knowles, John.  A Separate Peace: A Novel. Macmillan, 1959.                          Marion

Janus, Christopher.  Miss 4th of July, Goodbye…………………………………..

* Settle, Mary Lee.  The Clam Shell: A Novel. Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1971.        Kanawha

*Kinder, Chuck.The Silver Ghost. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979.                    Cabell County

*Maillard, Keith.  Alex Driving South.  Dial Press, 1980.                                    Ohio County

*Willis, Meredith Sue.  Higher Ground: A Novel.  Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1981.    Harrison County

*Phillips, Jayne Anne.  Machine Dreams.  E.P. Dutton, Inc., 1984.                      Upshur County

*Berkley, June Langford. Shannaganey Blue. The Akros Review, 1987.               Ritchie County

Myers, Walter Dean. Fallen Angels. Scholastics Inc., 1988.                            Berkeley County

*Currey, Richard.  Fatal Light:  A Novel. E. P. Dutton/Seymour Lawrence, 1988.    Wood County

Cummings, John Michael.  The Night I Freed John Brown and Ugly to Start With   Jefferson County

*Maynard, Lee.  Crum.  Washington Square Press, 1988.                                   Wayne County

*Phillips, Jayne Anne.  Shelter. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994.                       Upshur County

Gordon, Jaimy.  Bogeywoman: A Novel.  Sun & Moon Press, 1999.                 Berkeley County           

*Maillard, Keith.  Gloria.  SoHo Press, 1999.                                                    Ohio County

*Maynard, Lee.  Screaming with the Cannibals:  A Novel.  Vandalia Press, 2003.  Wayne County

*Maillard, Keith.  Running.  Brindle & Glass Publishing, 2005.                           Ohio County

*Maillard, Keith.  Morgantown. Brindle & Glass Publishing, 2006.                       Ohio County

Seabrook, Brenda. Finding India.

Willis, Meredith Sue.   Meli’s Way. Montemayor Press, 2015                               Harrison County