“Bored with all of the books you have at home, you walk into a new bookstore. You look around to orient yourself to the store layout and grab a handbasket. You wonder what kind of books you’ll leave with today? You know you are not someone who cares about tradition in your literature. You are an explorer, an adventurous sort, who loves to delve into works of art that push you out of your comfort zone. You want interesting experiences that challenge your viewpoints.
Ascend the stairs. You browse a display of books titled, “Stuck on You: Books with Second-Person Narratives”. You pick up a title and flip it open to read the description. You put it back down. Make sure to put it back in it’s spot. You don’t want to make more work for the bookseller. Pick up another book that has a beautiful cover. Look at the back. You place it in your handbasket. You browse for another 30 minutes, selecting books that you will take up to the cashier. You think about when you get back home, imagining unloading all of the books beside your favorite chair. Making a cup of tea from the “Tea of the Month” club you subscribed to back in the springtime and cozying up under a throw with one of these new books. You know that once you open the pages, you will be absorbed in reading so deeply that the world will fall away from you. You won’t be bored anymore.
You begin your journey to the cashier and smile to yourself. You know that this will be an amazing day.”
Did you see what I did there? I’m sure by now you’ve figured it out. You always were a clever one.
In literature, Second-Person Point-of-View (POV) uses the perspective of a single character. This character is the protagonist who will tell the story, one who has well-defined habits, traits, and a unique personality. You (the reader) are in their head and privy to all of their thoughts, feelings, and motivations. As an author, this is a tricky POV to use. Right now, even though I’m using “you” to address you (the audience), I am not writing in second-person. I am the protagonist, the person behind the “curtain” if you will. As soon as I inserted myself in the conversation, the POV shifted to first-person. A second-person perspective will only utilize “you, your, and yours” in reference to the narrator and he/she/they/it will be used exclusively to describe the actions of others/objects the narrator is interacting with, but you will not have access to the inner thoughts of these characters.
So, if it’s so tricky, why do authors use it?
Great question! An authentic second-person narrative is a powerful tool to wield for an author. If they can pull it off, this POV will create instant and complete empathy between the reader and the protagonist. You will become the protagonist, and their every thought and action will become your own. The author is striving for the reader to have an emotional response to the story by immersing the reader deeply into the character.
Some genres lend themselves to be easier to write in the second-person. Most of us remember the popular “Choose Your Own Adventure” series, which were incredibly interactive for the reader (There you were, fingers splayed throughout the pages, holding the place of all the choices you made just in case you died, and had to go back and decide differently). Short stories are great because it can be taxing for the author to write in the second-person for an extended period of time. It’s perfect when used in a chapter of a book to break up the monotony of a different narrative style. This switching up of the narrative is seen most often in suspense and thrillers, where second-person can enhance the story by limiting the amount of information available to the reader. The intimacy of poetry is an ideal pairing, too. If you want to learn more about using second-person narration in your own writing, there is a wonderful article by MasterClass on how to use it with a few examples or this well-written piece by Reedsy on the pros and cons of second-person narration from an editor’s POV.
To make everything easier, here is a curated list of books that feature the second-person perspective. These books span most genres and will appeal to a variety of readers, so I’m very sure that you will find something that interests you.
Need a library card? Please visit Get a Library Card to sign up for one today!