If you’ve followed me for a while, you probably know about how I really wasn’t a reader growing up – in fact, I didn’t read much at all before 2012. So now that I’ve been reading steadily, truly a tremendous number of books per year in a wide variety of genres, I’ve been discovering some things about myself as a reader, the first and foremost being…
I read for characters.Honestly, you can give me the most elaborate world building and creative story, but if the characters are flat and don’t have a personality, I will quickly lose interest. I’m delighted by complex characters, I love to see flaws and distinctive characteristics, and I need that voice to draw me in. It’s absolutely the reason why I love to read YA so much – because oftentimes the focus is on characters and their growth as they transition to adulthood or while they’re in that phase of “finding themselves”. I’m fascinated by the psychology of the complexity of humans, and I feel like I’m constantly learning about what makes people the way they are and how they can grow. It inspires me on a daily basis.
There are some obvious examples that come to mind.
But it’s not always about pure strength.
I’m also a HUGE fan of the Shatter Me series by Tahereh Mafi, though I will be the first to say that that series is far from perfect. Indeed, especially in the third book, the world building was just mediocre. But that series is all about character growth. Juliette’s stream of consciousness struck me in my feels zone, and though she starts the series weak and scared and distrustful – close to insane – she grows so much from that. It again is a case of perfectly capturing a complex personality who makes 100% sense given her circumstances. The writing style which other people rant about as being too purple and ridiculous I felt was a perfect reflection of that complex personality. So yeah, it might not work for everyone, but it absolutely worked for me.
When it comes to contemporary books, growth and relatability are key for me.
I also feel inspired when flawed characters who are struggling with some issue come to those great realizations that they’re okay the way they are or that there’s room for them to grow (in confidence at least). I got completely sucked into the personal journeys in The DUFF by Kody Keplinger, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales, and The Art of Lainey by Paula Stokes.
And in that sense, contemporary books where that growth was absent are less of a hit with me than they are with other readers. The two biggest examples I have for that may get tomatoes thrown in my face, but they are Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell and Open Road Summer by Emery Lord. To be clear, I loved both those books and gave them each 4 oranges, but the character growth just wasn’t significant enough (or it was just absent) to get me to OVER THE TOP LOVING IT.