Submission guidelines for a publisher I queried earlier in the week required “Comparative research.” The publisher/agent wants to know what published books have similarities to mine. Doing the research and making that comparison seemed pretty laborious, not fun at all. And then it turned out to be a lark, googling “coming of age novels,” selecting several to read, and then writing the comparison. And very cool that the finished product dovetails perfectly with last week’s post. So here ya’ go…
Comparative Research for Beyond the Gate by Cristy Fossum
Jessie, the main character in my novel Beyond the Gate (BTG), has much in common with Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s protagonist Victoria in The Language of Flowers. These two have reached young womanhood with such a significant lack of nurturing that they desperately avoid relationships. And then, they give birth and are terrified trying to mother. Victoria retreats into flowers and how they were understood in the Victorian era. Jessie retreats into paint-by-numbers, honing her skill over twelve years of receiving kits from a mystery friend. But, knowing that something is missing, they trudge through their pain to come of age as mothers and open themselves more fully to life’s pleasures and meaning.
There are also similarities between BTG’s Jessie and Julia from You’re Welcome, Universe, YA novel by Whitney Gardner. Neither Jessie nor Julia fits in. While Jessie is painting, Julia is graffitiing. Both of their stories include a diversity of others who don’t fit in: Jessie’s love interest is intelligent and autistic, her employer is an African American Vietnam vet living with mental illness, her cousin/friend is morbidly obese. Julia is deaf, Indian, and adopted; she has two moms, also deaf; and her best friend is overweight. All of these people live life in the margins of society to some degree, and yet have the strength of character to keep wrestling their demons and enemies until they get a pin.
Anne Tyler’s most recent book, Clock Dance, is a coming of age novel, introducing main character Willa at age 11, revisiting her in her college years when she gets engaged, and then continuing the main story when she is 61. Just as for Jessie, Willa’s childhood scars influence her relationships and behaviors as she ages. Even at her advanced stage of life, Willa matures into a new and better person, living with more freedom, joy, and authenticity.
Melody, from Sharon M. Draper’s out of my mind, can’t talk due to physical disability while Jessie often chooses not to talk due to social/emotional ineptness. They know the hurt of bullying and ridicule at school. These challenges could shut them down, but they won’t accept the smaller life that would result. Taking risks despite the danger and discomfort, they find the keys to expressing their deeper selves and living bigger.
Jessie, and all characters coming of age, from Pip to Huck to Scout to Holden, inspire us and delight us because, in a very real sense, they are us as they struggle and learn lessons and transform, dragging all that has come before into what lies ahead. This sentence written by Tyler echoes a wisdom from the ages and from many characters: “And yet nowadays, paradoxically, it often seemed to her that from behind her adult face a child about eleven years old was still gazing out at the world.” I believe that many potential readers identify with that sentiment and will meet Jessie eagerly, see themselves in her, and take satisfaction in yet another tale of the triumph of the human spirit.
Have you read any of the novels I cited? Do you think of any books in the coming of age genre to suggest for my future comparisons? (The more recent the better.)
Would you please forward this blog entry to a friend you think would enjoy my blog, Reflections on any given day? Ha, trick question! Don’t overthink it, just do it! (Please.)