Loss, Heartbreak, and Coming of Age Reading Themes

Death and the Coming of Age in Literature


Iphigene here.

Last week, as we discussed further the idea of Coming of Age we tackled Coming of Age as an Experience of Love and Heartbreak. Upon finishing my post, I had a short discussion with some acquaintances on their personal experience of first love and heartbreak. It is interesting how this brings discomfort to them, remembering the awkwardness of it all, the clumsy feeling of confessing your love, having it requited (or not) and losing that love. All shared the same feeling of wanting to be liked more and putting effort on the way they look and behave.

Love and Heartbreak opens the child’s heart to an intensity never felt before, but death punctures the heart like nothing else. I was already past my teens when I experienced the death of a close friend. It was sudden. He died in a motorcycle accident right after Christmas. I never felt anything like it. I cried and cried. His death bore a hole in my heart, a hole I never thought possible. No amount of reminiscing, I knew, would bring him back. The strange thing about death is one is faced with an eternity of missing the one who passed away. Confronted by death, a person comes to terms with the empty space it creates in our lives and when experienced at an early age, a child is forced to grow up. A child discovers the fragility of the life s/he thought to be unbreakable.


I think death is one the most common themes I’ve encountered in literature, especially among Young Adult literature. Let’s take Harry Potter, this popular series begins with one stark reality about the protagonist’s life and that is his parents’ death. Through the series, we watch him come to terms with the truth behind their death, even to the very last detail. Each death that Harry Potter is confronted with makes him realise how dangerous his journey is and how important it is.

Missing May

One of those books I’ve loved that dealt with death and loss is Cynthia Rylant’s Missing May. The book is short, but it is rich in insight. I loved how the reader gets to witness two very contrasting views on coping with death, that of an old man and of a young girl. As this unravels, one sees how the little girl discovers the meaning of death and how she and her old man can move on from it.


Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons is another novel that talks about a girl, Sal, who deals with the death of her mother by denying its existence. The reality of her death only sinks in at the end where she gets to talk to the lone survivor of the accident and she gets to visit her mother’s grave. It isn’t an easy truth to swallow, but it is only in confronting the truth that she finds a way to move forward.


Of recent, literature on loss deals with Cancer. One of the most heart wrenching of these is Patrick Ness’ Monster Calls. The protagonist takes on a superficial acceptance of his mother’s illness. We see the cliché and we meet the monster, only to discover the true monster that sits within his heart. This novel that captures the grit involved in dealing with cancer and the inevitable death of someone you love. If I were to describe this book and what the character had to go through, it felt like a butterfly fighting his way through the cocoon and the pain it takes to change.



The two books I recently reviewed for this bimonthly theme also deals with Cancer, but in two very different ways. Slammed had death as one of the major themes in the book. Hoover uses the death of a parent (or parents) as the propeller that made our teen protagonists face reality. Where love and boyfriends aren’t the only things that matter, and where RESPONSIBILITY is much more than a word adults throw at teenagers. If anything it is this particular plotline that I liked in Slammed. The other book, Notes from the Dog, takes cancer into a more positive light, it deals with death with hope and happiness clearly identified at the end. It is not the death necessarily, but what is left of the life of Johanna that allows our protagonist to discover who he is beyond what he thought himself to be.

Several novels out there talk about loss and death as that conflict young people have to confront with. Yet, all these stories converge into one truth and that death transforms you.  I end this post with an interesting image posted by powerbooks store in their facebook page. I haven’t read the book, but its another way of looking at how Loss and Death can lead to a Coming of Age.

Courtesy of The Fault in our Stars by John Green (Poster from Powerbooks FB Page)
Courtesy of The Fault in our Stars by John Green (Poster from Powerbooks FB Page)

Do you remember your first encounter with Loss? Death? Do you remember reading a novel that dealt with the Coming of Age of its protagonist after experiencing Loss? Share this with us.

5 comments on “Death and the Coming of Age in Literature

  1. Hi Iphigene.

    From the top of my head, I can say, The Hunger Games Trilogy and The Book Thief. Those two were probably among the most powerful stories about grief, and death, and coming of age, that I’ve read. I have recently been reading GRRM’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, which we all know, has boatloads of death in it and also a variety of young characters like the Stark children, Arya, Bran, Rickon, Sansa, Robb, Jon. And it was clearly shown how it changed them. They suddenly were older than their ages. I experienced death in my teens and it did mess me up a bit. I kinda knew it was coming but when it happened, I still felt like I was pummeled.

    I also agree on the “eternity of missing them” ,and sometimes, there are those that also bring about an eternity of regret, or guilt. But like you said, whichever way it goes, it still transforms you in the end. I guess, that is why it is a powerful theme in literature. And some of which can offer comfort to the young experiencing loss and grief. 🙂


    • Hi Tin,

      I’ve read both The Hunger Games Trilogy and The Book Thief, and I have to agree both books were powerful stories and in many ways very vivid in its depiction of grief and death. I haven’t read A Song of Ice and Fire though I’ve been following the series. I think one of the most powerful transformations I’ve seen would be Arya’s, its leading her towards a darker direction.

      I’m liking the more recent literature that deal with loss and grief, they aren’t too sugar coated. Its grittier and more real. This allows the young reader to find something in there they can relate to. After all, we can only move forward after a loss if we confront death as what it really is.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. 🙂


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