What Do You Think of First Person Narrators?

I’ve heard many opinions on in the book blogging community about how common it is for books, especially young adult books, to have a first person narrator.  Grab The Lapels had a wonderful post on why she was frustrated with YA novels, and made a fascinating point about just how too common a first-person narrator is in YA fiction and how much that can limit the perspective of a book. Her post made me began to consider the impact a first-person narrator has on a book.

I’ve had several different experiences with first person narrators. It seems they generally have one or more of several impacts on a book. They can be make a book feel personal, make a character that might be otherwise unlikable seem more relatable, exhaust a reader, or cripple a book that could have been impactful with a little more variety or perspective.

A first-person narrator can give us a look through their eyes at their life, and the battles they are fighting on a day-to-day basis. When an entire book is in first person, narrated by one character just speaking about themselves and their lives, we’ve only gotten one perspective when every character has a story.

First person narrative can give readers a very limited perspective on the story, and make it difficult to think about anything but just what one character is thinking. As a writer, I try to keep in mind that every character in my story has a story of their own, so to speak. When a writer forgets that all her characters have stories, the side characters can start to feel useless and bland.

First person narrators magnify events that involve them. The petty annoyances of life are made larger, and the life-changing things rock their world. Being able to display this much feeling and impact through an “I, me, my” narrator or character can seem impactful and enriching, or end up petty and exhausting.

In some books – and not necessarily just psychological thrillers- an unreliable first-person narrator undeniable enriches the story. When we must think about whether or not the narrator is telling the truth, it changes our perspective on the story and we think about the events and character more critically.

The Hank the Cowdog series by John Erickson is generally enjoyed by children, but the nuances of the character, humor, and emotion that is added to the book by an unreliable first-person narrator seem to have served to make the series interesting to all sorts of readers. It can be a powerful thing to have a flawed main character, and let readers see how a character’s life is filtered through their experiences, passions, thoughts, and opinions.

Veera Hiranandani has a wonderful first-person narrator in her book The Night Diary, which won the Newbery Medal this year. She was dealing with a topic that would be unfamiliar to many readers, and was also sensitive and filled with emotion. By filtering the events of her story through the eyes of a young girl, The Night Diary became a touching and impactful story rather than bleak, as it otherwise might have been

So when is a first-person narrator the right choice for a story? How can an author ensure that a reader sees past one character to her story as a whole? There’s not one right answer. In my opinion, she should certainly consider whether having one perspective is going to make her story powerful and character realistic, or if having multiple characters give their perspective is going to make it easier for characters to see her full story. First-person can be a wonderful asset to a story, but it’s good to have a chance to see the world through the eyes of several different people.

What do you think about first-person narrators? Do you love them? Hate them? Think there’s just too much of them? Do you think they improve a story or take away from it?

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Why I Love “To Kill A Mockingbird”

Often, I’ll say I like a book because of the characters, or the plot, or the tone, or all three of the above. Sometimes, there is an extra special book that has more to it than characters, plot, and tone. To Kill A Mockingbird was a very influential book to me. It had characters, it had tone, and most importantly, it shows readers the importance of fighting for what is right.

Boo Radley and Judgment

Harper Lee’s book opens one hot, Southern summer.  A new boy, whose nickname is Dill, has moved to town. Scout and her older brother, Jem, spend the summer playing with Dill. The trio’s favorite game is to play “Boo Radley.”

Boo Radley  lives is the house across from Scout and Jem’s, and has never been seen by the townsfolk.  Scout, Jem, and Dill make up terrible stories about Boo.  They have a game of sneaking up as close as they dared go to the house, then running away.

Soon the children start finding gifts of gum and candy in a hollow tree, put there by Boo Radley for them.  Slowly, Scout realizes that perhaps Boo Radley is not a terrifying lunatic, but rather a nice old man.  This experience with Mr. Radley will influence Scout later in the book and in her life.

I love the lesson Scout learns here. She thinks she is stupid, but her father, Atticus Finch, tells her that “you never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view.”[1] She begins to understand this when she realizes that Boo Radley, the eccentric man that the children of the town fear greatly, is actually a shy, kind man.

Justice and Injustice

Soon the children at school start mocking Scout and Jem about their “nigger-loving” father.  They tell Scout and Jem that Atticus took on a case to defend a black man, and ridicule the two because of it.  Atticus informs the children that it is true; he did take on the case, and asks them to endure the taunts of their friends.

Scout and Jem want to know more about the case, so they sneak into the trial to witness something that will change their lives.  Tom Robinson has been accused of raping a white woman named Mayella.  

Atticus has a brilliant defense and Tom a believable story, while Mayella Ewell and her father have a farfetched story that doesn’t seem to be true.  Despite all appearances, the all-white jury convicts Tom of the offense, a capital offense in 20th century Alabama.  

This part of the book is one of my favorites because it is here that Atticus shows Scout and Jem how to fight for justice, even if they know they will lose. She asks Atticus why he would defend Tom when he knew he would lose.  Atticus tells Scout that true bravery is just that: fighting for the right thing even if it seems hopeless.

Finally, I love this book because Scout learns that the world is unfair and figures out how to deal with it.  Tom Robinson shouldn’t have been ruled guilty.  Boo Radley shouldn’t have had such a hard life or been ridiculed by her and the other children.  Bob Ewell, the father of the white woman that accused Tom, should not have carried a grudge against her father.  She learns that the world is unfair, and the only thing she can do about it is to love.


[1] Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird (HarperPerennial, New York), p. 33.

Let’s Chat!

Have you read To Kill A Mockingbird? What did you think? Who was your favorite character?

Part Two: Books We Dis/like/agree On

This is Part Two of a collab post series with Sarah from Sarah’s Fantastical Bookshelves. Part One was books we both liked, sometimes for the same reasons and sometimes for different ones. Looking through our ‘read’ lists on Goodreads, it was a little bit shocking to see how similar our tastes in literature are, but there were still a few books we disagreed on. In Part Two, you get to read about the books we disliked and disagreed on.

The Selection

The Selection (The Selection, #1)

Sarah’s rating: 2 stars

Sarah’s opinion: I actually didn’t prefer the premise of this book. It was honestly just a bunch of ladies sabotaging each other and trying to get the attention of a prince. If I’m going to read a book in the romance genre, I want it to be about true love, and in this book, it seemed too fake and the dialogue was forced. Of course there was a love triangle (like any generic YA book), and the main character COULD NOT decide who she wanted to be with, which resulted in her confusion as to whom she truly loved (which is not true love folks). I will say that I loved the main character’s family. All of the scenes with her family made me feel warm and fuzzy. Part of me wishes the whole book could have just been about them.

Grace’s rating: 2 stars

Grace’s opinion: I can see why people would like it. It has an interesting dystopian setting, and the premise is fascinating- it reminds me of the Book of Esther, actually. It’s really dramatic.  

Because so many people were raving about it, and it didn’t sound bad, I picked it up and forced my way through it, then wished I hadn’t.

It’s a formulaic love triangle romance. The dialogue sounded stilted and unnatural to me. I felt lost while I read it because I didn’t know where or when I was exactly. I found the characters annoying, and the main character, America Singer, came of as sort of whiny and overdramatic. I give this book 2 stars.

Black Beauty

Black Beauty

Sarah’s rating: 3 stars (it would have been two but I’m feeling generous

Sarah’s opinion: I really liked that this book was written from the perspective of a horse as it went through its life. Honestly, he was a really lovable character, and there were some especially sad parts that made me want to hug him and buy him and UGH I need a horse now. I had a few issues with Black Beauty, like the fact that it was SO SAD. It was too sad for me to handle. I’m okay with sad books every once in a while, but just don’t do it through the poor innocent eyes of an animal. I couldn’t handle it. However, I can see why this book has been loved and appreciated for so long. It’s a lovely little story with an amazing main character.

Grace’s rating: 4 stars

Grace’s opinion: I thought this book was really cute. It was the story of a horse’s life, from birth to old age. It’s really a sort of old-fashioned book, but I was able to enjoy the story and the characters. This is one book where watching the movie before or after really brought the story to life, and didn’t just ruin your idea of the story.

Cinder

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1)

Sarah’s rating: DNF

Sarah’s opinion: I love science fiction, fantasy, and ADORE Cinderella. So obviously, I thought I was going to love this book with my whole heart. Sadly, I found it to be sort of bland. I usually prefer books that are fast-paced, and a lot of people agree that this one starts out sort of slow. One thing I did like about the book was the characters. I thought they had good backgrounds and they were well-thought-out and creative. Unfortunately, I just didn’t have the patience to get through this one, but maybe I’ll come back to it sometime in the future.

Grace’s rating: 4 stars

Grace’s opinion: I actually really liked this book. I didn’t expect to, after my experience with The Selection, but I was pleasantly surprised.

The setting is fascinating. It’s set in a dystopian New Asia, where technology is everywhere, there’s a sort of Cold War going on with the people on the moon, there’s spaceships, and a prince is about to have a big ball.

I loved the characters. Iko the android was so cute, and I didn’t find Cinder to be a cliched YA fairy tale heroine. The plot was fast-paced and interesting, although it started slowly, and the stakes were high.

Am I the only one who thinks the cover’s a little bit creepy?

Fahrenheit 451

Fahrenheit 451

Sarah’s rating: 4 stars

Sarah’s opinion: As a reader, the description of this book truly scared me. Burning books?! This was a very scary glimpse into the future, with people constantly using technology, books not allowed, and super long billboards (read it to find out what I’m talking about). I think the ending was also a bit abrupt? I expected this book to be longer, or maybe get a bit more closure at the end? Possibly the author wanted to end it this way, to make his point. Hopefully this is not what the future holds in store for us, but I’m glad we have this book to prevent it from happening.

Grace’s rating: 3 stars

Grace’s opinion: The writing in this book was amazing. The tone perfectly matched the subject matter, and the structure of the book awed me. The author portrayed the characters as flawed, struggling people. The messages are relevant and chillingly reflect the world we live in today.

That said, I’m torn about this book. For me, it’s a hard book to read. Characters are an important element of a book for me as a reader, and I didn’t really like the characters in Fahrenheit 451, nor do I think I was supposed  to. Reading about characters so hopeless and self-centered is difficult.

Take, for example, Captain Beatty. He, at one point, loved books- and arguably, people. He studied them, cared about them, got to know them really well. He knows books and people well, and uses his knowledge of books and his knowledge of people to confuse and manipulate Guy Montag. And Mildred Montag is completely hopeless, and doesn’t even seem to remember her life. Guy himself has times of compassion, and times of reckless confusion and rage.

For those reasons, this was a hard book to read, but I still liked it. I thought the writing showed definite mastery and talent, for certain.

Let’s Chat!

What did you think of this collab? What are some books that disappointed you?

Review of Bridgers: A Parable

Bridgers: A Parable

Title: Bridgers: A Parable
Author: Angie Thompson
Publisher: Quiet Waters Press
Released: November 21, 2017

Summary

Peyton is a boy with a bright future. He attends church, says the right things, and is even reaching his dream of becoming a preacher.

Davonte comes from the wrong side of town. He’s not necessarily a bad kid, and just wants to be left alone, but in school and in town he can tell that people have some opinions about him.

Levi’s the pastor’s son. He knows what he is supposed to do, but he’s shy and nervous, and struggles to stay committed to his faith when pressures arise.

These boys all have the same choice to make, and only one of them steps past expectations and stigmas in order to truly help another in need. The choices they make will influence their entire community.

Review

This book blew me away. To be honest, I skimmed the description and picked it for the cover. It was as much and more than I was expecting. Angie’s characters are amazing, and it’s impossible not to relate to the characters and feel invested in them and their storyline.

Bridgers is based off the story of The Good Samaritan, and it’s one of the best retellings I’ve ever read. It is a powerful story in itself, and also makes the story it’s based on come to life in a new way.

When we hear the words “good Samaritan,” we think “nice person.” We don’t think about the stigmas and expectations that the real Samaritan had to be brave and caring enough to overcome. We don’t think about how caring for another person could have disrupted their life. Bridgers really shows what caring about other people enough to do something about it when they’re hurting might look like in a modern setting we recognize.

The writing style in this book was very unique, and I really enjoyed it. The POV switches are unusual in that it switches from third person for Peyton and Levi to first person for Davonte. I’d never seen that before, but I think it worked very well to distinguish the characters and their perspectives and also make the book very personal for one of them.

The dialogue was spot-on, and I love a book with good, natural dialogue. The book shows and doesn’t tell, which can be a very hard thing to do, even for well-established authors and writers.  

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Stellae Books. A positive review was not required. These are my honest thoughts and opinions.

Overall, Bridgers impressed me very much and is going on my list of favorites. I contacted the author and asked if she’d be interested in answering a few questions for a short interview which you can read here.

If You Like

If you like books such as Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds, Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys, Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, or You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins, you will probably enjoy Bridgers: A Parable. 

Let’s Chat!

Have you read many indie-published books? What are your thoughts on books with multiple points of view?