Ten Books suggestions from us Book Warriors for “Readers Who Like Character Driven Novels.” This is the theme from The Broke and the Bookish!
Ok, just to put it out there: Most popular teen and YA lit are character driven. Ostensibly the allure of Character Driven stories points to the popularity of reality T.V., the fascination with The Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin and the easy way that books like The Hunger Games can be transferred onto the silver screen. All that said, I suppose I’ll just give you a list of some of my favourites to consider as character driven…
- Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll – Everything that happens to Alice is up to Alice, in the end she has control over her own motion. She has to navigate her own mind, her own wonderland if you will, but she will always reach the end because she drives the story for as long as she wants to. Considering this classic in this light is fascinating.
- Lord of the Flies by William Golding – by now you all are probably tired of me talking about this book, haha, but I truly enjoy it and I think it fits into this list. The story doesn’t necessarily only follow one character, but there would not be a Lord of the Flies without the boys on the island. Considering the story as character driven, which I think it is, the social experiment and the depth to which Golding interrogates human nature comes to light.
- The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness – This one is truly character driven in that we follow Todd through the books and his actions always cause reactions and in many ways Todd’s coming of age is realizing causality and responsibility for action (and therefore responsibility of driving the plot of the story). As the series progresses we add more characters to the POV and it becomes clear that each character drives the plot in his or her own way and they take responsibility… or not… for their actions.
- The Life of Pi by Yann Martel – I think I enjoy this as a character driven novel because while the reality of him being stranded on a boat at sea is out of his control, the fictional versions of the story is all within Pi’s own control and narrative. I think this aspect is what truly makes the story great – character driven narrative, in The Life of Pi saves his life.
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie – I’m going to talk about this book again too. It is a realistic fiction book that follows the childhood life decisions of Junior. He is determined to go to a good school, and that decision and his determination to follow through, and his subsequent decisions charge the plot forwards. In this way, Juniors character is truly in charge but, realistically, he faces challenges because of those decisions. Again, action and reaction.
I guess I define character driven slightly differently than Steph because character driven to me means a novel that is more concerned with an exploration of human nature (or supernatural being nature) than plot-driven though the best books marry both. To elaborate, books that focus on an internal journey than a physical one, where miles traversed are within a person’s own mind. Here are five books that were like this and that I enjoyed:
- Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
- The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay
- Fall for Anything by Courtney Summers
- Sean Griswold’s Head by Lindsey Leavitt
- Immortal Beloved by Cate Tiernan
I am going to go with Nafiza’a definition. Here are my picks:
- The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang. It’s a superhero story, but with much more focus on the person who chooses to become a vigilante.
- Daytripper by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba. Again, has fantasy elements but the fantasy is shaped by the protagonist’s character.
- The History Boys by Alan Bennett. A bunch of grammar school boys prepare for their Oxford/Cambridge entrance exams.
- Genesis by Bernard Beckett. I feel like all science-fiction likes to move past the shiny future and focus on the people who live in it, but IMO no other sci-fi book has done as well as Genesis has.
- Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour: There is very little conflict in this one. Just a lot of piecing together of personal histories and figuring out what people really want.
- The Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner. I know I’ve talked about this before, but not as often as I’ve thought about it, I promise you! The characters, most especially Eugenides, are full of life. They have distinct personalities, perspectives, and intentions. Despite their diverse interests, it is impossible not to care for these people, even, or perhaps especially, when their intentions collide.
- Amy Unbounded: Belondweg Blossoming by Rachel Hartman. Seraphina is fantastic, don’t get me wrong, but I have a very soft spot for Amy. The cast is large but there is a strong sense of characterization throughout this collection as well as long-term and short-term story arcs, such that characters remain consistent while they change. It is a very complete-feeling world, and readers get a sense of the backgrounds and relationships of the characters through their present interactions.
- Bandit’s Moon by Sid Fleischman. Annyrose Smith falls in with Joaquin Murieta, the (in)famous bandit of Gold Rush California who is set on avenging the injustice done to Mexican miners in general and himself in particular. Lots of action, and a strong sense of relationship to characters present as well as those absent.
- Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster. This book did for orphan reform in the USA something along the lines of what Uncle Tom’s Cabin did for Abolitionists. But the real reason you should read it is because Jerusha (Judy) Abbott, the dauntless orphaned protagonist, is darned funny and plucky despite her dreary past. The story is told almost entirely through letters from Judy to the unknown benefactor, known to her only as “John Smith,” who pays for her college education. Here’s a passage from Judy’s first letter, addressed to “Dear Kind-Trustee-Who-Sends-Orphans-to-College”:
Before leaving yesterday morning, Mrs. Lippett [the matron of the John Grier Home for orphans] and I had a very serious talk. She told me how to behave for the rest of my life, and especially how to behave toward the kind gentleman who is doing so much for me. I must take care to be Very Respectful.
But how can one be very respectful to a person who wishes to be called John Smith? Why couldn’t you have picked out a name with a little personality? I might as well write letters to Dear Hitching-Post or Dear Clothes-Prop. (p. 10)