It is almost a year since my novel Ways of the Doomed was published and I am astonished at the mixed readership it has attracted. When the marketing was first planned it was agreed to pitch mostly to the Young Adult market. I have been visiting schools all year and it’s true, the kids are enthralled. When I wrote the novel I had no audience in mind, I just wrote the book I wanted to write, so I am delighted that adults are also loving reading the harrowing adventure of my young protagonist Sorlie Mayben. This got me thinking about other books narrated by children that have an overwhelming adult appeal, often because the subject is bigger than the narrator’s story.
Now it’s the girls turn to show that they are just as capable as telling their stories for the adult audience. When I looked out my reviews I found just as many girls stories as I did boys. Many of the reviews whether with girl or boy narrators are set in Africa. This may be because I did lots of research on Africa a few years back or maybe it is because African writers seem to find it easier to tell harrowing stories from the point of view of children. Looking at the list below, I find that most of the stories are harrowing no matter where they are set but they are stories worth reading despite that.
1. Precious by Sapphire
Sixteen year old Precious Jones, is illiterate, she is raped by her father, beaten by her mother, let down by the system. When she falls pregnant for the second time by her own father she is placed in an alternative teaching programme. Here she learns to read and write. This is her diary. This brutal story is not for the faint hearted, but we are kidding ourselves if we think it is a unique story. Too many novels portray ‘poor little rich girl’ – poor little poor girl deserves to have her story told too. Despite the trauma of the tale this is an inspirational read.
2. Dora, a headcase by Lidia Yuknavitch
Definitely not for the faint hearted. I imagine teenagers hiding this novel from over anxious parents. LGBT sex, drugs and enough swearing to make Madonna blush. Oh but what a voice (or not) because this is a modern telling of the Sigmund Freud case study and his treatment of a young girl Ida Bauer (Dora) with hysteria which resulted in loss of voice. The modern narrator Ida (Dora) ramrods her way through her own mental health issues, subjects her psychiatrist to a treble dose of Viagra and videos his subsequent relief. It is fun but with serious undertones. Her mother is in denial of Ida’s father’s affair and Ida relies on her motley crew of friends to help her get even, get better, get the hell out of there.
3. No and Me by Delphine de Vigan
The story is told by thirteen year old OCD sufferer, Lou Bertignac in a narrative voice that is unique and believable. She befriends No, a homeless girl living rough on the streets of Paris. With a naivety that is refreshing Lou tries to fix No’s life. The fact that the number of homeless young people currently living on the streets of Paris is staggering makes this story all the more believable.
4. Where’d you go Bernadette? by Maria Semple
This book is set in Seattle, where everyone works or is connected to Microsoft, but the fifteen year old Bee uses emails, articles, hand written post-its and reports to try to discover what has happened to Bernadette, her wacky mother, who one day vanished from Bee’s life. Bee is a funny, clever and very wise narrator. I loved this book
5 5. NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
Although this book starts with the grown up Viv McQueen, most of the book is in flashback. Vic as a young girl can teleport to the right spot to find missing items just by riding her bike through a covered bridge. She keeps her gift to herself and gets into all kinds of horrors when she meets bad guy Charles Manx, the man who offers children a ride in his creepy car and takes them to Christmassland. Very scary and definitely adults only.
6. 6. The Other Hand by Chris Cleeve
This is the story of another Bee, this time a young girl fleeing her African village, which was cleared by soldiers for the oil companies. While on the run Bee and her sister encounter Andrew and Sarah, a white couple who try to help but with horrific consequences. When Bee’s sister is murdered Bee travels to England to find Sarah. A harrowing story.
7 7. The Sopranos by Alan Warner
Five choir girls from Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, a rural girl’s school, are let loose in the big town for a night of drunkenness, debauchery and shenanigans. Their antics are hilarious and also often very sad. Not only is this a book about teenagers written for adults, it was written by a man and proves that maybe men are not always from Mars. Alan Warner’s Morven Callar was a great female novel, The Sopranos is just as good. Brilliant.
8. The Cure for Death by Lightning by Gail Anderson-Dargatz
Fifteen year old Beth lives on an isolated Canadian farm beside a Native American reservation that is being terrorised by a daemon. This becomes a metaphor for how Beth deals with her violent father’s abuse and her treatment in the community. The focus of action is a moody menacing wood, and characters are both good and evil. The novel is sprinkled with recipes and remedies from a scrapbook and is rich in sensory descriptions.
9. The Taxi Driver’s Daughter by Julia Darling
Novel’s written by poets are normally beautifully written and this is no exception. This is a story of a family in crisis; two teenage daughters, a mother in prison for shop lifting and a father who just wants to run away from it all. Caris is fifteen and hugely affected by her mother’s imprisonment, she is bullied at school and falls in with the bad crowd. The hopelessness of Caris’ plight is brilliantly portrayed. You just want to tell her to sort her life, but the reader can’t and nor can she.
1 10. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This book won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and was Shortlisted for the Orange Prize. The narrator fifteen year old Kambili tells the story of her family, ruled by a fanatical, misguided father who believes he is doing right by God, by half killing his family. It is only when Kambili and her brother go to live with a free thinking aunt that brutality and oppression of their old life become apparent to them.
11. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
One of the most famous child narrators, Suzie Salmon, uses her vantage point of heaven to narrate her story. She tells the reader how she was lured into a hiding placed, raped and murders. But her family don’t know and Suzie watch them as they agonise over her disappearance and slowly disintegrate as a unit. A grim tale very well told.
1 12. The White Bird Passes by Jessie Kesson
This is a Scottish classic autobiographical novel. Little Janie MacVean is a little girl who is happy playing amongst vagrants and tinkers, but eventually ends up in an orphanage when the ‘cruelty man’ deems her mother’s upbringing unfit. The novel is filled with colourful characters and an impressive writing style that uses simple homely verbs which hit the spot every time. A delight.
I’d be surprised if you’ve never read a book with a child narrator, but if you haven’t I would urge you to do so. They are more reliable and much better fun than adults.