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Books, Grimm, Top 10

Top 10: general fiction with teenage narrators

24.06.08 | Comment?

I started thinking about this list as being books about teenagers that adults enjoy reading, but discovered that my collected items all had, specifically, teenage narrators. It’s an interesting list, full of award winners and movie adaptations. It took me from Japan to India to Nigeria to France to Heaven…. These are almost all in the general (adult) collection in the library. If you’re looking for a challenge you can’t go wrong with some of these.

  1. book coverExtremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer is a novel largely about the impact of 9/11 on a small boy (so yes, he’s not a teenager… yet). This is a very clever and touching book by the author of Everything is Illuminated (which they made into a movie).
  2. Vernon God Little by D B C Pierre. Vernon Little is the cynical 15 year old narrator of this sometimes-controversial novel. Some might suggest this is a postmodern Catcher in the Rye (“discuss”!). Whatever, a lot of people just like it because they get to call the author an “enfant terrible” and things like that. (Booker Prize winner.)
  3. Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones. While I don’t think this lived up to the miles and miles of unbelievable hype, Mister Pip is a touching, thought-provoking and informative story about the troubles in Bougainville (in Papua New Guinea) in the 1990s. Matilda is the teenage narrator of the story, who tells a story of discovering Dickens through an inspiring teacher, and surviving grotesque violence and enormous upheaval. (Montana Book Award winner and Commonwealth Prize winner for 2007.)
  4. book coverThe Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. Peter Jackson is currently turning this into a movie right here in Wellington. Susie Salmon is fourteen and dead, narrating the story of her life past (i.e. how she came to be dead) and the present life of her family, struggling to come to terms with their loss. Susie tells the story from her vantage point in heaven, which is like a school playground, naturally.
  5. book coverPurple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I just finished this one a couple of days ago. Purple Hibiscus is set in Nigeria at the time of a political coup, told by Kambili, a 15 year old girl who is terrorised by a tyrannical father. The story is well told, and surprisingly non-judgmental and mature, considering the subject matter (her father stands her in a bath of boiling water, for example), and makes you think about parents and teenagers and control and freedom and love. (This was shortlisted for the Orange Prize, which she went on to win last year with Half of a Yellow Sun.)
  6. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. The narrator tells the story as an older man, but the action mostly happens while he and his best friend, Owen, are teenagers. This is a great book; quite challenging on several levels and definitely worth it. See if you don’t cry! (John Irving won an Academy Award for his script of The Cider House Rules (based on his own novel by the same name).)
  7. Number9dream by David Mitchell. Set in Japan (mostly Tokyo) and narrated by recent school leaver Eiji Miyake, Number9dream jumps between daydream and reality (Eiji has a vivid imagination, which makes him a bit unreliable as a narrator) as Eiji goes on a mission to find his parents. This is a challenging read, but David Mitchell is great. Also try Black Swan Green, an easier book about a year in the life of a 13 year old English boy during the Falklands War and a marriage breakup (his parents’, not his own). (Shortlisted for the Booker Prize.)
  8. Life of Pi by Yann Martel. People either love this or hate it. Piscine (as in French for swimming pool) Patel calls himself “Pi” (can you blame him?). Pi, raised in Pondicherry in India, is a philosophical kind of bloke. Just as well, really, when he finds himself shipwrecked and floating on the Pacific Ocean in a lifeboat with a zebra, a hyena, a seasick orang-utan and a large Bengal tiger called Richard Parker (really, what else would a tiger be called?)… (Booker Prize winner.)
  9. book coverThe Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides is, weirdly, narrated by a group of teenage boys enthralled by the Lisbon girls; beautiful, virginal… suicidal…(The book was made into a successful movie, and Jeffrey Eugenides went on to win the Pulitzer Prize with a later book, Middlesex).
  10. Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier. Published in 1913 and the only novel completed by the writer (who died during World War I), Le Grand Meaulnes is a novel that has influenced writers like David Mitchell (see above… he says this is a great depiction of longing) and Rose Tremain (in The Way I Found Her, her thirteen year old narrator entertains himself by translating Le Grand Meaulnes from the French… as you do). Fifteen year old Francois Seurel narrates the story of Augustin Meaulnes, who searches for his lost love. This has been made into two films (1967 and 2006, of which we have neither, as it turns out).

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