The Mysterious Unreliable Character

mystery-month-2014Cindy and Lynn: Teens either love or hate novels with unreliable narrators. There are a growing number of these characters and often it is in the teen years that readers first experience this mysterious type of narration. The response is either delight at the novelty of it and the surprise, or intense anger at being deceived or lied to. These novels make for interesting readers advisory opportunities and follow-up discussions. We don’t always like the unreliable character, but almost always we love the story. How about you? Do you like reading novels with unreliable narrators? Does the mystery of it intrigue you or irritate you? Here are some of our favorite unreliable narrators:

ThiefEugenides from Megan Whalen Turner’s Thief stories: The relationship between Gen and the Queen of Attolia is one of the most interesting in teen literature (all literature) and Gen always keeps people guessing. Turner’s plotting is exceptional but we love Gen even more.

 Verity from Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity: Sure, Verity is being tortured in a Nazi prison but we were both gasping at the pages as she revealed spy secret after secret to her captors. Was she crazy??? Nope. Just another fascinating unreliable narrator.

Keir Sarafian from Chris Lynch’s Inexcusable: “I am a good guy. Good guys don’t do bad things. Good guys understand that no means no, and so I could not have done this because I understand.” Huh. “The way it looks is not the way it is…” Indeed.

White DarknessSym from Geraldine McCaughrean’s The White Darkness: Sym tells the truth as she sees it but a careful reader will put together all the clues Sym reports to arrive at a terrifying conclusion.  There’s more than one liar on the ice here.  If ever there was a book that demanded rereading immediately upon finishing – it is this book.

Briony from Fanny Billingsley’s Chime: “I’ve confessed to everything and I’d like to be hanged.  Now if you please,” says Briony in the opening lines.  She unfolds a tale of her guilt and treachery, but should we believe her?

John from David Klass’s You Don’t Know Me: “You don’t know me at all. You don’t know the first thing about me.” John’s right, and he’s not going to help you either. Read the opening page of this extraordinary novel for a no-fail booktalk for reluctant readers.

Sage from Jennifer Nielsen’s The False Prince:  Sage is the master of snarky comments and completely willing to participate in the double-dealing political deception being planned.  But who is is really outwitting who?

I am the cheeseAdam Farmer from Robert Cormier’s I Am the Cheese: Oh, Adam. You and your bike ride….you sucked us in and we never read unreliable narrators the same again…Robert Cormier you are missed.

And who is YOUR favorite Unreliable Narrator? Or do you dislike books that have them? Leave us a comment!

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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