The 8 books that helped me grow up


I love books. In fact, I love reading just about anything. I’m a big believer that you have to consume some trash along with your classics. After all, how else would you know the difference?

But there is one genre that I truly hate. And that: is the stupid, stupid vampires.

In hundreds of years’ time, anthropologists will study our generation. In digital lectures – where the professor appears via hologram and students absorb information by scanning barcodes with the computers embedded in their wrists – they will wonder what we were like and what made us tick.

The teacher will ask, through some kind of yet-to-be-invented digital telepathy, “students, what is distinctive about the reading material of generation Z women, that sets them apart from the generations before?”

And the answer will be: vampires.

Generation ‘Z’ are all about the vampires.

I simply do not understand why we are teaching our young women that happiness can only be achieved by relinquishing your humanity and hooking up with irrationally violent men, who want to suck your blood?

When you’re a pre-teen or teenage girl and navigating the terror that is puberty, desperately hoping boys will like you, trying to find a crowd you fit in with and learning to love your mum, then irrationally hate her (and then love her again) – vampires do not help.

These are the eight books that helped me grow up. The eight books that helped me make it from age 6 to 16.

They taught me about friends, they taught me to understand my family, they taught me how to cope with sadness and loss, they taught me the power of acceptance and they taught me to be confident. And they taught me about love.

And none of them are about vampires.


1. Matilda (Roald Dahl)

Each of Roald Dahl’s books are stuffed full to the brim with humour and warmth. His imagination is second to none. Matilda is the story of a child genius whose mind is so desperately frustrated by her deadbeat family, that she develops magic powers. The novel illustrates the life-changing power that a good teacher can have on a child and is perfect for a kid of seven or eight – that special time when your classroom teacher is the most important part of your world. Matilda taught me that being good at schoolwork was something to be proud of and that smart girls can do anything. Bam.


2. The Railway Children (Edith Nesbit)

The simple act of typing out the title of this novel makes me sigh with pleasure. This classic follows a family of three children who are forced to leave their comfortable life in the city and move to the country with their mother. The Railway Children was probably my first taste of a novel with a whacking great twist in the middle of it. I still remember that out-of-control, heart-racing feeling I got when I solved the mystery of what had happened to the children’s father. The eldest sibling, Roberta is one of the most likeable creatures you will ever come across and is a great role model for firstborn girls.

3. Hating Alison Ashley (Robin Klein)

I spent weeks preparing my year four book-report about Hating Alison Ashley because I was so desperate to do this tremendous tale justice. The book is narrated in the first person by Erika Yurken (‘Yuk’), a rough-and-tumble kid, from a working class family, who longs for a more glamorous existence. When the seemingly perfect new girl, Alison Ashley, shows up at school and steals Yuk’s thunder as top of the class, Yuk’s resentment and jealousy boils over – with hilarious results. As a kid, I related to Yuk’s desperate struggle to fit in and her relentless pursuit of popularity. Klein does a stellar job at teaching her young reader the moral lesson that perfection is just an illusion and that family is the most important part of life.

4. Just as Long as We’re Together (Judy Blume)

Everyone has a Judy Blume favourite and this was mine. Just as Long as We’re Together covers off on all that essential before-high school territory – buying the right clothes, best friends who grow apart, first kisses, growing breasts and getting your period. It also deals with the tricky subject of divorce, which for some reason gets a lot of attention in fiction aimed at teenage boys but not so much girls. It is probably the only book on this list, which I haven’t lovingly re-read as an adult. However I remember that, at the time, I felt as if I’d finally found someone who understood me.

5. Looking for Alibrandi (Melina Marchetta)

I’m going to call it: this is the best ‘coming of age’ book ever written by an Australian. Looking for Alibrandi follows a young woman during her final year of school as she meets her estranged father, prepares for the HSC, deals with a friend’s suicide and navigates her first sexual relationship. It is quite simply, brilliant writing. Melina has that rare ability to swallow you up whole, so that you become the main character and her highs and lows affect you as much as those in your own life. I read this for the first time during the summer before starting high school and recall thinking ‘I can’t wait for the day I can drink cappuccinos’. I’ve made it, people. Made. It.


6. To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)

This one straddles categories – because it also fits squarely in mine (and so many people’s) ‘best books of all time’ list. To Kill a Mockingbird is the story of a 10-year-old girl growing up and having her eyes opened to the ugliness and brutality of racial prejudice. Atticus Finch, the central adult character, is perhaps the most iconic defender of racial equality that fiction has ever created (and in my opinion, is the man that every girl should marry). It’s a book that reminds readers of every age to be tolerant of difference, to stand up for what we believe in and to ‘never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.”

7. Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell)

Gone With The Wind has stuck it out as my favourite romance novel for more than 10 years. Set against the backdrop of the American Civil War, it is the story of the vivacious but selfish Scarlett O’Hara and her fight for life and her fight for love. It’s a ripper. It really is – you cannot put it down. And Scarlett’s lover, Rhett Butler, is the sexiest man that one woman’s imagination has ever dreamed up. Scarlett is the protagonist that everyone loves to hate but I adore her. For her unshakeable confidence. For her work ethic. For her dogged loyalty. And for the fact that she never once gives up. Not in 1000+ pages.

8. The Joy Luck Club (Amy Tan)

I’m not generally a lover of short stories but this collection is enchanting. It is a compilation of memories from four mothers, each born and raised in China and their four American-born daughters. It’s clash of cultures meets clash of generations but most importantly it is an exploration of the mother/daughter relationship. Most teenage girls, inevitably go through a period where they feel misunderstood by their mums and this one helped me realise how ridiculous I was being, when I went through mine. Poor mum. She was such a trooper through all that angst and all those hormones.

What were the books that helped you grow up? Have you read any of the books above? Which was your favourite?