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Monday, December 28, 2009

Reliable Narrators

What do you do when someone, your critique group, a professional, your sister or best friend, says to be careful that your main character is likable? How do you create a character readers will actually want to read about because s/he's funny, intriguing, smart-assed, whatever it takes, yet also appealing?

Enter the Reliable Narrator. A character kids want to know. She may not be lovable but she should be interesting in some way. Oddball, quirky (that much disparaged word), spunky, full of life.

One of my favorite books to read and hardest to get my head around and write about was this year's much-discussed novel for middle graders, Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me. So I liked this Story Sleuth posting about the narrator, Miranda, being a character kids really wanted to get to know. Here's a bit of the post. Click here to read more:

I’ve been thinking about what grips me about this story, why I’m so engaged. I think it’s largely because the narrator, Miranda, is so appealing. She feels like a real kid. Stead set the story in pre-cell phone, pre-email 1979. Miranda is a 12 year old 6th grader living on the Upper West Side of New York City with her single mom, who works in a law office. Miranda navigates her school as an office monitor, and her street as a “latchkey child.” (p. 3) Her best friend from day care grows away from her, and she seeks new friendships in her class, friendships that are strained, broken, and ultimately healed. What draws me into this story, in addition to the underlying mystery, is Miranda’s reliability as a narrator. I trust her, because she admits to feeling sad, and mad, and lonely, even mean and jealous. When her friend, Annemarie, hopes that a rose left on the doormat might have been left by Colin, the boy Miranda also likes, Miranda suggests to Annemarie that the rose might have been left by her dad. “Your dad is so nice. It has to be him.” (p. 112) Then the narrator Miranda describes her own feelings: “I was miserable, sitting on the edge of her bed in that puddle of meanness. But I couldn’t help it. I didn’t want Annemarie’s rose to be from Colin.”

Related post: Book Reviewing

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