Can anyone give me a good definition of a 'Coming of Age' novel?
A Coming-of-Age novel (or Bildungsroman) typically follows one or more young characters on a quest of some sort. These novels require that the main character or characters grow, develop, or mature, generally in a mental or emotional manner. They face various tribulations and obstacles which help to form their adult personalities. These obstacles can be of a physical, experiential, emotional, or spiritual nature--whatever causes the narrator to grow or change in maturity can be considered an obstacle. Examples of Coming-of-Age novels would be The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Harry Potter, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Red Badge of Courage, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
Also, a coming-of-age novel (or story) is sometimes called an "initiation" novel or story because the protagonist is initiated into a previously unknown mental or emotional state. Frequently, the protagonist is initiated into the realities of life, developing a loss-of-innocence theme in the narrative. This initiation is accomplished as the character experiences new and difficult circumstances that cause confusion and pain as he or she makes the transition. After completing the journey, the character is forever changed in fundamental ways. A Separate Peace and To Kill a Mockingbird are great examples of initiation novels, and Fitzgerald's "Winter Dreams" is an excellent example of an initiation story.
Let us not forget the way in which bildungroman, or coming-of-age novels, involve one character finding their niche in society and becoming accepted into society at large. Characters in coming-of-age novels often find that they are not accepted into society for a number of reasons, but by the end of the novel, they have matured and made their peace with society, but this is only the result of enduring some form of suffering. Classic examples that are worthy of mention would be Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, David Copperfield and A Separate Peace.
Any novel in which the main character, typically a young adult or child, undergoes one or more events which foster some sort of growth...emotional, physical, spiritual...and comes out a more experienced, mature, and changed character. You have several good examples above. Here are a few more:
My Sister's Keeper, This Side of Paradise, The Secret Life of Bees, the Hunger Games series, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, To Kill a Mockingbird, Little Women, The Lovely Bones, and How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents.
With a short narrative, often a sharper definition of terms is more apparent. For instance, James Joyce's short story "Araby" acts as a short example for students of what constitutes this concept of bildungsroman as the naive boy has an "epiphany" as Joyce terms the realization of the character, that he has been deluded in his perception of the bazaar as an exotic place and in his creating of Mangan's sister as his idealized love.
Those are all excellent examples. I might add that The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger would be a classic example. As would The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton. A more contemporary series that might fit the bill would be Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow by Orson Scott Card.