‘I am a rock, I am an island,’ sang Simon or was it Garfunkle in the 1970s. This is true of many literary characters (and writers) too. It’s an attractive ready-made plot: loner meets world; conflict ensues, or outsider rubs up against society; conflict ensues and outsider learns to fit in/society learns to accept outsider. It’s difficult to write a story about a character who is truly alone (and maintain interest, at any rate); even Robinson Crusoe ended up with Man Friday, and Tom Hanks gets rescued in Castaway (by people).
- James Sveck, Someday This Pain will be Useful to You, Peter Cameron. James only likes two people, his grandmother and the manager of his mother’s art gallery. He is withdrawn, shuns contact with other people and dreams of escaping to the Midwest: alone. If you are after satisfying and tied-up endings then this might not be for you, but it is excellent (I am told).
- Holden Caulfield, The Catcher in the Rye, J D Salinger. And what’s more, J D is one too. Holden’s the loner that other loners want to be like, which leads to:
- Tom Henderson, King Dork, Frank Portman. Finding The Catcher in the Rye in his dead father’s possessions changes Tom Henderson’s life.
- Will Stanton, The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper. Being the last of something will set you up as a loner. Will is the last of the Old Ones. I guess you could add Eragon from the Inheritance cycle (Christopher Paolini) to this category (and Saphira), being the last dragon rider (and the last dragon), or at least he thinks he is.
- Vernon Little, Vernon God Little, D B C Pierre. Vernon: sinister, superior, strange; a weirdo loner who is convicted of a school shooting, so he takes off, escaping from the law and the media.
- Johnny, Ponyboy, Sodapop et al., The Outsiders, S E Hinton. It’s true that the have-nots are outsiders in a world that’s all about having and The Outsiders centres on the tension between the haves and the have nots.
- Miyamoto Usagi, Usagi Yojimbo, Stan Sakai. The lone Samurai warrior. Who happens to be a rabbit. Cool.
- Charlie, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky. The wallflower: a well-known metaphor for the social outsider. This is a novel in letter form, the letters being written by Charlie to a “friend”, the identity of whom we never discover. You’ll be happy to hear that Charlie does manage to make some friends through the course of the story. Another loner YA book that references The Catcher in the Rye (Charlie reads it).
- Arnold “Junior” Spirit, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sherman Alexie. Intelligent and awkward and frequently bullied, Junior leaves his school on the rez to go to the local town high school. The other kids are all white, which leaves Junior with one foot in neither camp, really, but also with a unique opportunity for self-discovery.
- Eyeore, The House at Pooh Corner, A A Milne. If you look at a map of the Hundred Acre Wood you’ll know what I’m talking about. He’d make it onto a list of literary pessimists too, along with Marvin from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.