Five Books – Five Authors – Five Unique Forms of Characterization

Hook, Line and Sinker, by Ev Bishop

Ev Bishop has an incredible understanding of human nature which makes her books stand out as being unusually authentic. While romance is a genre that doesn’t get a lot of respect in some circles, her skill is definitely worthy of respect from any reader. I only wish I could write characters as warm and engaging. They feel like living, breathing people, so much so that you almost start developing relationships with them! Add the romance and some action, and her River’s Sigh B&B series is a total winner.

A Great Reckoning, by Louise Penny

I absolutely love the character of Armand Gamache. I would even go so far to say that he’s my favourite book character of all time. I’d love to write a character as great. Heck, I’d love to BE a character as great! With her Chief Inspector Gamache murder mystery novels, Louise Penny leans toward having one truly great character carry the story – and being a master of complex plots doesn’t hurt her either. Definitely worth a read.

The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert

This book was very different, especially compared to her better known, Eat, Pray, Love. Not a lot happened in it – and yet I found it oddly intriguing, even captivating. The story basically followed a woman from before she was born (by writing briefly about her parents) until the day she died. The entire book seemed a character study, and though the story was strange in that the plot didn’t follow a usual form, I enjoyed it. I recommend this book, but only if you don’t mind a slower read.

The Gate Crasher, by Madeleine Wickham

I enjoy Sophie Kinsella’s work, so when I saw a copy of The Gate Crasher, written under her penname, it seemed a good find. Though the protagonist was a con artist, I thought she’d surely be redeemed in the end, and so I was going happily along for the ride, forgiving her when she did things that were thoughtless and unkind, simply because I believed she would learn from her experiences. Fast forward to the end: I think she changed… it was briefly implied that she changed… I’m sorry, but that’s not enough for me. The question of the story – will Fleur learn to love, and abandon her destructive ways? – was not answered. With The Gate Crasher, I felt conned.

The Humans, by Matt Haig

Matt Haig has written a story that is unique, quirky, surprising, heartwarming, and even a bit terrifying at times. All together, it was simply wonderful. An alien inside a human body, sent to kill the family of the body’s previous owner, told from the first person point of view of the alien. The premise certainly gave Matt Haig opportunity for fresh characterization and storytelling, and he took full advantage of it to great effect. And not with just the alien character, but with the human characters as well. And the dog! And it’s a love story too, albeit a peculiar one.

And now that we have come full circle back to romance, I will bid you adieu. I hope you try some of the books!

So Many Supers!

whisperI picked up Whisper, by Phoebe Kitanidis, from my daughter’s shelf. She is fifteen, so as you might guess, Whisper is a Young Adult novel. The story was entertaining, fast moving, had a nice mix of action and drama, plus family and friend relationships, and even a budding romance. My daughter loved it and I was entertained by it, so it was a win!

What I thought while reading: Like most YA novels these days (including some of my own books: the Whinnies on the Wind series, the Horse Guardian series, and more), Whisper featured a teen who has an extraordinary ability – and I couldn’t help but wonder yet again, why do such a high percentage of YA movies and books feature superhuman teens?

One can say that all demographics enjoy this genre, and that’s true – but the genres available to older readers are far more diverse. We have plenty of non-super protagonists to read about. In YA, the majority of novels include teens with an unusual ability of some sort.

My first thought: having super powers puts protagonists in previously unheard of situations, and therefore may create story interest out of novelty. But then I wonder, after a while wouldn’t reading about a non-super teen become new and fresh? Also, wouldn’t a “normal” character be more relatable?

Maybe the attraction to the super teen is an indicator of how some teens feel powerless in their lives. In the pages of a book, a reader usually feels as powerful as the protagonist, so that very well might be the draw. But do that many teenagers feel powerless? I hope not.

Another option: the super teen phenomena could simply be boredom with the world as it is. Yikes, and almost as sad as the feeling powerless theory. Especially since there is plenty to see in the world when one takes the time to really look.

Maybe it’s because teens are in the process of finding and realizing their own abilities, including those things they’re gifted at. In that case, reading about superhuman teens would be research. And as an aside, it is possible to have a super power. Here’s a list of 50 real-life superhumans.

Then I moved on to the other side of the computer, so to speak. Why do writers write about teens with super gifts?

I can’t speak for other writers of course, but I have tried to infuse my teens’ superpowers with a deeper message. In the case of Evy in the Whinnies on the Wind series, that truth was that we, as the dominant species, need to have compassion for all living creatures and treat them kindly. If, by reading my books, one person does something kind for an animal that they might not otherwise do, then Evy’s superpower has served its purpose.

In Whisper, it is possible that Phoebe Kitanidis also intended to show a deeper truth. Her protagonist’s superpower – to hear others’ thoughts as whispers – gave encouragement to the reader to be authentic to themselves.

Isn’t that something that we all want to hear – or dare I say even need to hear? I believe that on some level, we all know that honoring our most authentic self is how we reach our greatest potential. To me, to be personally authentic is a true super power – and I believe it is to young readers too.