Saturday, January 12, 2013

"wasn't much else for us to learn, except maybe algebra"

Alisha Layman

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee 
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
The Hunger Games, Suzanne Collins
The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini
Room, Emma Donoghue 

 When I first gathered this list together, I guess I didn't really see a lot of connections; a story of Southern life and racism during the 30s, a Victorian-era story of love and independence, a futuristic thriller about government control, the tale of a young man from Afghanistan, a story of a child growing up in the confines of a single room. But the more I looked, the more I saw that they were all pretty similar. All of the novels are told by a first-person narrator. These central characters are surrounded by a fairly small cast of supporting characters. Furthermore, the central characters are all young, or at least, the novel begins while they are young; Scout begins the novel at age six, Jane is ten in the first chapter, Jack is five, Katniss is sixteen, and Amir--although the novel begins with him as an adult, looking back on his life--tells the story of how his life changed starting at age twelve.
This is my living room. Can you tell which novel is my favorite?

Because these novels begin with such young narrators, they all seem to be Bildungsroman novels. The characters are growing up, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. For example, Scout is trying to grow into a woman, Amir must learn how to grow from his past mistakes, and Jack must learn to grow up outside of Room, and the develop a normal life.

Along the way to this growth, the characters face many obstacles, such as the actual Hunger Games for Katniss.  The struggles that the characters must endure, however, aren't always physical. For the central characters in these novels, many obstacles are internal. This is probably the reason that I really love first-person narrated novels. I am privy to the thoughts and emotions of the protagonist, rather than just her dialogue. Access to thoughts makes a more sympathetic character, and it allows me to connect with the novel a little better. The protagonists in these novels certainly go through a lot of internal struggles. As Scout is growing up, she is struggling with her gender identity, as well as her morals concerning her father's case. Jane is torn between her independence and love. Katniss, too, is torn, but for her it's between humanity and survival. Poor little Jack struggles with comprehending life outside of Room. Amir probably has the most internal struggles of any character I have ever read. He is wracked with guilt over not saving his best friend from being raped, so much so that he decides to accuse him of theft and have him sent away; many years later, still a victim to his guilt, he goes on a quest to redeem himself.

There seems to be one overarching theme that draws all of these books together, though. It's something that I look for in novels, when I'm looking for something new to read. It's not necessarily genre; I love mystery and fantasy genres, but what I really look for in novels is something that makes me feel. All of these novels really excite some strong emotions in me--pretty much, for all of these, the predominant feeling is sadness; they're absolutely heartbreaking. I'll admit it. Room made me sob and scream and throw the book across the room. But I still picked it back up. Because I love it when novels can do that to me.

*Post title is quoted from To Kill a Mockingbird. Seriously. Is it obvious yet that it's my favorite?

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