Surprise Me! Books With Unexpected Elements
I am a reader. I don’t try to confine my reading habits to a particular genre or interest group. I am not only a reader of fantasy or a reader of mysteries; I am most definitely a reader of books. It’s true that me reading literally anything you place in my hands can appear a bit chaotic and unstructured. It’s both easy and incredibly difficult to buy books as gifts for me because there’s a chance I will like anything. Compare it to going to a restaurant with a menu of 50 items. Every item looks appealing, and there’s truly not one thing that jumps out over another. At this point, I suggest my old stand-by approach: Randomly point to something while closing your eyes. Now that is a splendid representation of the element of surprise. What can I say, I thrive for chaos. I live for the shuffle button on Spotify.
With such a penchant for reading anything, I have experienced a vast amount of plotlines, voices, and settings. Oftentimes some of these components can be visible in other stories. It’s very difficult to create something so new that it can be compared to very little. However, there are some books that break through stereotypes and tell a story in such a way that, familiar or not, it sparks new thoughts.
One of my favorite examples of this phenomenon is My Favorite Band Does Not Exist by Robert T. Jeschonek. It is incredibly difficult to explain the plot of this book, but I’ll do my best. First, there are three separate stories that alternate throughout the book. The first plotline involves a boy named Idea Deity. For fun, Idea has created a band called Youforia that doesn’t exist. Youforia has a website, tour dates, discussion boards, and a large number of fans despite the fact that no one has ever heard them play. The second storyline centers on front man Reacher Mirage. Reacher’s band, Youforia, has never played a show. In fact, no one should even know Youforia exists. But somehow, there is a website, complete with information and song titles that Reacher has never released to anyone, even his band mates. Connecting these two characters is the third section of this book. Both characters are reading a novel called Fireskull’s Revenant. Jeschonek includes chapters of Fireskull’s Revenant in the book as well. While this seems truly complex and confusing, Jeschonek easily ties everything together, allowing some aspects to be predictable while leaving others a complete surprise. I felt like I was reading a puzzle in which I had to collect the pieces as the book moved forward. What made this book so enjoyable was the fact that I couldn’t figure out exactly what was happening. It was complex, chaotic, and awesome.
Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone series is another example of a successful brain exercise. At first, it’s easy for readers to assume that Taylor’s books will be similar to other supernatural romances that line the shelves. However, Taylor is not satisfied with predictability, which is evident in her books. For a while, Taylor allows the reader to believe that the story will be told in a linear fashion. Soon, though, Taylor reveals that the seemingly straight-forward nature of Karou’s story was merely a decoy. In actuality, the reader is enlightened about the truth surrounding Karou and Akiva in a similar fashion as peeling an onion. Each layer of story reveals another layer, and there is a good chance a few tears will fall. In the sequel, Taylor makes the reader work even harder by including more characters and points of view. Through these additional characters, the reader believes he or she knows what is happening, only to discover that a second point of view reveals new truth that changes everything. Taylor’s use of red herrings doesn’t appear forced or unsurprising. I highly recommend this series to fans of fantasy, supernatural, romance, or action stories. Taylor’s series is a combination of several genres, mixed to perfection.
My third and final example of a title that was just overflowing with originality is Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. Riggs uses the inherent creepiness of old photographs and builds a story around it. I do believe that Riggs’ story would still have been interesting without the photographs, but the inclusion of them makes the book stand out to readers. In a time where graphic novels and manga sit at the top of the popularity scale, Riggs shows that books including unexpected images can also be quite outstanding. In fact, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is also being adapted into a graphic novel. It is a backwards way of creating a story, being as Riggs had the images prior to the construction of the story. Often the illustrator will take away important aspects of the story and create images that will have an impact on the reader. Riggs works the other way around. Fortunately, Riggs has decided to continue the bizarre story of Miss Peregrine’s children in a sequel that is due out early next year.
Now that I’ve shared a couple of my favorites, I’m curious: What books left you shocked? What plotline took you one way and then seamlessly changed course?
— Brandi Smits, currently reading Every Day by David Levithan