Friday, February 22, 2013

Why I like reading about unlikeable characters

I remember awhile back watching a vlog by John Green in which he talked about unlikeable characters. I think he was defending criticism aimed The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger in which readers have said that they were put off by a really unlikeable characters.  Perhaps it was actually The Great Gatsby he was talking about.  Either way, what stuck in my mind is his argument that it isn't the characters at all, whether they be likeable or not, which is important but the story around them. 

And I didn't agree with him when I first heard him say it. I was wondering if it only really applied to pretentious books. But I've read a couple of books lately which made me sit up and take notice. In each of the books below, the story starts out and the main characters are all absolutely horrible. I hate all three of them.  But something about each book made me want to continue reading despite how much I actively disliked these characters. In fact, I quite enjoyed them.  I loved seeing the great difference in opinion I have for these characters from the beginning and at the end.  That journey towards being better or at least less annoying, arrogant or spoiled really appealed to me.  What do you think?

Jackson from The Disappeared by CJ Harper 

Oh, Jackson. He is such an arrogant pig at the start of this book.  The number of times he mentions that he has an AEP score of 98.5 made me seriously want to physically hurt him.  Or at least stop reading the book.  Which I did at one point, I took a break read something else, but I kept thinking about this one.  And I realised I did still want to know what happens to Jackson.  I wanted to find out how he ended up going from 'brainer' at a top school headed into Leadership and then suddenly shipped to an Academy with quite rough and generally uneducated children destined for factory work.

Slowly, as Jackson gets more involved in Academy life, and he makes friends with both Ilex and Kay and finally realises that test scores aren't going to get him anywhere in this violent kind of existence in which rank is based on fighting skills and hair colour.  The thing that I love most about Jackson is that he realises the power of language and is willing to spread that knowledge around to those around him.  I went from hating this poor boy to kind of falling in love with him.  I love his utterly sweet developing feelings for Kay, his protectiveness over Ilex's little sister, the relationship that he has with his mother.  I wouldn't have know any of that about him if I'd given up on him based on his behaviour in the first few chapters.  And that's not even mentioning any of the strange world in which there is such a huge divide in social boundaries and education and human rights.  And that aspect of the world-building is definitely worth sticking around for!

Corrinne from Where I Belong by Gwendolyn Heasley

I saw a review of this book last summer and really liked the sound of this wealthy girl from New York being shipped off to her grandparents in Texas after her dad loses all of his money in the recession.  I liked the idea of her feeling out of place but also falling in love with a cowboy... but I never really considered how much of a spoilt princess Corrinne would actually be at the start of the book. 

It was quite shocking reading how disrepectful and ungrateful Corrinne is.  I really couldn't stand the way in which she she takes so many things for granted and gets huffy over how differently her life in Texas is compared with what she was expecting.  I'm not entirely sure what kept me reading this story of this wretched girl, but I did.  And eventually, she ends up not being so obnoxious and spoilt.  I really liked her friendship with Kitsy and the way in which she loses some of her ideas about her appearance and how much having a job doing manual labour and also how learning to drive changes and empowers her.  I love the small-town Texas setting as well. 

Lia from Lia's Guide to Winning the Lottery by Keren David

Now, it's been awhile since I read Lia's Guide and actually I feel really bad that I never reviewed this book.  I absolutely loved it, it was just bad timing when I read it.  What I love so much about the book is how much was going on, with Lia herself, with her friends, her family and with Lia's love interest, the maybe-vampire, Raf.

I loved Lia's character. At the start of the book, she's really self-centred and having a row with her mum and is being kicked out.  This is the only book out of the three mentioned in this post where I didn't mind too much how rotten Lia is because she's so believeable as a teenager who believes the world revolves around her.  In fact, the more horrible things that Lia says or does without really realising it at the start just made me like her a little bit more because I could relate to her. 

I just loved going on this journey with Lia, seeing how her life is put into perspective with all this money she's won and how everything turns out to be crappy because of it.  With a Facebook book campaign against her, her best friend not being allowed anything to do with her money, the weirdness between her friends, the fact that Raf is being so mysterious.  It was just a really great story. One that made me think about what I'd do in Lia's position.  I loved the way everything unfolded and I'm very glad that I was never put off by an unlikeable main character!

Have you ever been put off by book because of an unlikeable main character?


  1. This is a brilliant post! I completely agree with you, too. I'm intrigued by fictional characters whose opinions and thoughts I don't necessarily agree with. Of your examples, I've only read Lia's Guide, and I loved following Lia's journey. I definitely want to read the other two books you mentioned.
    Thanks for a great post, Clover!

    1. You're welcome, Luisa :) I really loved Lia. I hope you enjoy the other two books!

  2. Fab post - I don't think I've ever been put off a book by an unlikable character but I do prefer it when a character starts off unlikable and goes onto grow into a character that I can love.

    Lia is the only one of those three I've read as well, so will be adding the others to my wish list :)

    1. I'm glad to hear you aren't put off by the unlikeable characters! That big character development is always lovely to see..


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