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Though most readers have fond memories of wanting to be friends IRL with lovable characters from treasured works of fiction (looking at you, Hagrid!), many books we love center around *somewhat* less admirable people. The characters portrayed – unreliable narrators, irredeemably flawed protagonists, and unlikable charactersprobably wouldn’t be people that most would choose to hang out with. Despite that, when confined to the page, these less-than-stellar qualities become more captivating than repugnant.

What is an unreliable narrator? Isn’t that just a fancy name for a liar?

No. An unreliable narrator has difficulty distinguishing between fantasy and reality. Their truth is their reality, whether it’s real (or not) to those around them and the reader.

A liar knows what they are telling you is untrue. There is an intention to deceive that motivates them. But that’s not to say a liar doesn’t have their place in fiction. They make wonderfully unlikable characters that can add plot twists and stalls to the story, along with anti-heroes, colorful secondary characters, and those flawed protagonists.

But wait, is any narrator really reliable?

It could be argued that a truly reliable first-person narrator doesn’t even exist. After all, every person will view the story through the distorted lens of their own biases, experiences, and perspectives, then tell it through a series of omissions and curated facts that backs their own “truth”. It’s called the “Rashomon Effect”.  Learn more about the “Rashomon Effect” here.

Why would a book want or need an unlikable character? 

Unlikable characters add complexity, richness, and that “certain something” that keeps a reader invested in the story. At any rate, likable people rarely make for an interesting narrative. It’s the flaws, ranging from minor faults to jaw-dropping secrets, that add spice to the reading and raise the stakes of the narrative. They give breadth to humanity and bring the story to life.

So, let’s embrace these 7 unreliable narrators and unlikable characters that we love to read about — even if we don’t end up liking them very much!  And don’t forget to check back soon for the “Unreliable Narrators & Unlikable Characters, Part 2!

(All summaries are from the publishers)

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Resources

Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson

Mary B. Addison killed a baby. 

Allegedly. She didn’t say much in that first interview with detectives, and the media filled in the only blanks that mattered: a white baby had died while under the care of a churchgoing black woman and her nine-year-old daughter. The public convicted Mary, and the jury made it official. But did she do it?  

There wasn’t a point to setting the record straight before, but now she’s got Ted – and their unborn child – to think about. When the state threatens to take her baby, Mary’s fate now lies in the hands of the one person she distrusts the most: her momma. No one knows the real Momma. But does anyone know the real Mary?

Audiobook Available on Hoopla
Ebook Available on Hoopla
Ebook Available on Overdrive

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman

Caden Bosch is on a ship that’s headed for the deepest point on Earth: Challenger Deep, the southern part of the Marianas Trench.
Caden Bosch is a brilliant high school student whose friends are starting to notice his odd behaviour.
Caden Bosch is designated the ship’s artist in residence to document the journey with images.
Caden Bosch pretends to join the school track team but spends his days walking for miles, absorbed by the thoughts in his head.
Caden Bosch is split between his allegiance to the captain and the allure of mutiny.

Caden Bosch is torn.

Ebook Available on Hoopla
Audiobook Available on Overdrive
Ebook Available on Overdrive

Made You Up by Francesca Zappia

Reality, it turns out, is often not what you perceive it to be—sometimes, there really is someone out to get you.  

Alex fights a daily battle to figure out the difference between reality and delusion. Armed with a take-no-prisoners attitude, her camera, a Magic 8-Ball, and her only ally (her little sister), Alex wages a war against her schizophrenia, determined to stay sane long enough to get into college. She’s pretty optimistic about her chances until classes begin, and she runs into Miles. 

Didn’t she imagine him? 

Before she knows it, Alex is making friends, going to parties, falling in love, and experiencing all the usual rites of passage for teenagers. 

But Alex is used to being crazy. She’s not prepared for normal.

Audiobook Available on Hoopla

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

The first ten lies they tell you in high school.

“Speak up for yourself—we want to know what you have to say.”

From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless, outcast, because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her. As time passes, she becomes increasingly isolated and practically stops talking altogether. 

Only her art class offers any solace, and it is through her work on an art project that she is finally able to face what really happened at that terrible party: she was raped by an upperclassman, a guy who still attends Merryweather and is still a threat to her. Her healing process has just begun when she has another violent encounter with him. But this time Melinda fights back, refuses to be silent, and thereby achieves a measure of vindication.

Audiobook Available on Overdrive
Ebook Available on Overdrive
Ebook Available on Overdrive

More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

Sixteen-year-old Aaron Soto is struggling to find happiness after a family tragedy leaves him reeling. He’s slowly remembering what happiness might feel like this summer with the support of his girlfriend Genevieve, but it’s his new best friend, Thomas, who really gets Aaron to open up about his past and confront his future. 

As Thomas and Aaron get closer, Aaron discovers things about himself that threaten to shatter his newfound contentment. A revolutionary memory-alteration procedure, courtesy of the Leteo Institute, might be the way to straighten himself out. 

But what if it means forgetting who he truly is?

Ebook Available on Overdrive

The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson

Who is Jenna Fox? Seventeen-year-old Jenna has been told that is her name. She has just awoken from a coma, they tell her, and she is still recovering from a terrible accident in which she was involved a year ago. But what happened before that? Jenna doesn’t remember her life. Or does she? And are the memories really hers?

“The Adoration of Jenna Fox” is the first book in the “The Jenna Fox Chronicles” series.

Audiobook Available on Hoopla
Audiobook Available on Overdrive

Sadie by Courtney Summers

A missing girl on a journey of revenge. A Serial―like podcast following the clues she’s left behind. And an ending you won’t be able to stop talking about.

Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meager clues to find him.

When West McCray―a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America―overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.

Audiobook Available on Hoopla
Ebook Available on Hoopla
Audiobook Available on Overdrive
Ebook Available on Overdrive
Audiobook Available on RBdigital

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