Unreliable, whiney, un-likable, liars—we’ve all read characters like this! I love to read a good book with a “bad” (and/or unreliable) narrator. This kind of flawed storyteller reaches to the reader and asks us to question, look deeper, and ponder truth and lies. It is a sign of an excellent author who can manipulate you to love the book and hate the character. Skilled writers make the reader believe the lies and then accept the truth.
Here are some favorite examples of protagonists I love to hate.
- In this year’s Printz Award recipient I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson twins Noah and Jude lie to each other, lie to their parents, and lie to themselves (and by extension to us: the reader). With all the lies it’s no wonder there was so much to reveal in this tale. The sneakiness and bad treatment of each other made me distinctly dislike them. But Nelson also juxtaposed the twins’ nastiness with descriptions of how deeply they love each other.
- Cadence from We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (2015 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults). Here is what I consider to be a likeable character and one whom I really felt for. But what if I knew the truth of what really happened that summer at the beginning of this book? Would I still have felt so sympathetic towards Cady?
- Froi and Quintana from Melina Marchetta’s Lumatere Chronicles. Only Melina Marchetta (Printz Award winner) could take a predatory lowlife like Froi was when we first met him in Finnikin of the Rock (2011 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults) and turn him around so distinctly then lead him to star in his own story. Froi is redeemed in Finnikin of the Rock; grows in Froi of the Exiles, and become a hero in Quintana of Charyn. In the second installment of the Lumatere Chronicles Marchetta also introduces Quintana: one of the grossest characters I have ever imagined in a book and quickly made me love her. Quintana is prickly, deranged, damaged, paranoid, abused, and abusive. But she becomes a hero too—fiercely protective and thoroughly decent.