Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s theme was character driven novels.

  • Bitter Is the New Black: Confessions of a Condescending Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass, Or, Why You Should Never Carry a Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office by Jen Lancaster → There is a reason Lancaster has successfully published around eight memoirs: her real life escapades read like fiction and, in so doing, draw you into her world to the point where you either love her (and want to read more, more, more) or think she’s an annoying complain-a-lot. (Me? I want Jen and me to be besties.)
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger → I have to admit that The Catcher in the Rye is definitely not one of my favorite books. (Not even a liked book.) Part of the reason is that nothing really happens during Holden Caulfield’s weekend jaunt after he decides to leave boarding school—and that’s the main reason why the book is on this list. What’s a more character driven novel than one almost devoid of plot but solely devoted to its characters?
  • The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson → I ache for the protagonist of Davidson’s novel—but not for the tragedy that propels the story into being and prompts the introduction of the character of Marianne Engel. I ache for everything that our narrator can’t remember and marvel at the fact that Davidson is so good at telling a story that the one thing I wasn’t told was the protagonist’s name.
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn → I dislike this book not because Flynn’s a bad writer, the plot was boring, or her characters seemed hollow. I dislike this book because I loved it so freakin’ much that the ending came as a punch-in-the-gut disappointment. If you still haven’t read Gone Girl (for whatever reason), don’t leave it on the shelf because of Flynn’s characters. They’re manipulative, flawed, deceitful, shallow, intense, and so, so, real.
  • Little Bee by Chris Cleave → Little Bee is the story of Little Bee, a Nigerian refugee stuck in an English immigration holding cell, and Sarah, a widowed suburbanite and mother of one. It’s about the enduring ties of compassion, regret, and choice. And it’s heartbreaking: because, no matter how much you wish differently, what you are reading is immutable and you can’t change one damn thing.
  • Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides → I seem to have a love-hate relationship with Eugenides’ fiction, but boy do I absolutely love this family-centric drama which is, and I quote, “a grand, original fable of crossed bloodlines, the intricacies of gender, and the deep, untidy promptings of desire.” If you only read one of his novels, make sure it’s this one; it will change the way you think about storytelling.
  • The Passage by Justin Cronin → Holy crap is The Passage one of my all-time favorite books. I understand that maybe you don’t like vampires or read “long books.” But an author cannot successfully write thousands of pages (like Cronin has) without tugging on my heart strings and making me root for, cry over, and scream at their characters. This book is amazing and what you feel for one character is not dulled or muted by the fact that Cronin introduces (and makes you feel for) dozens of other characters.
  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson → Speak is about friendship and pain and the cruelty of teenagers. It’s about Melinda Sordino and her uphill battle to climb out of a pit of depression. And although it references and revolves around an Event that Melinda experienced prior to the start of the novel, it is not about that event. (Per say.) Speak is about how Melinda is defined by that event—and how she in turn reacts to that event—and how everyone around her reacts to that reaction. In short: it’s an extremely powerful work of fiction and one of my absolute favorites.
  • Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl → Oh my gods did I want to be Blue van Meer when I read about her in Pessl’s novel. She’s just so smart and fiesty and go-getting that, instead of feeling dumb in her presence, she gives me a precipice for which I can aspire to reach.
  • White Oleander by Janet Fitch → Fitch’s novel is hard to read not for what happens but what fails to happen to White Oleander‘s protagonist, Astrid, as she grows up in foster homes after her mother, Ingrid, poisons a boyfriend and is sentenced to life in prison. Throughout the text, Ingrid looms larger than life, manipulating Astrid from behind bars and forcing her daughter to contemplate the existential.

3 thoughts on “Top Ten: Books for Readers Who like Character Driven Novels

    1. I’m very wary of hyped books, so I went into Gone Girl with some trepidation, but I was totally on board with the plot, the novel’s structure, the infuriating behavior of Flynn’s characters… and then Nick just rolled over and let Amy win. I get that it was in character for Amy to be so manipulative – and maybe I’m just annoyed more with the fact that a baby means Nick’s stuck in that relationship forever (so perhaps that’s his reasoning behind his decision to stay in the relationship) – but UGH. It just annoyed me so much that it kind of ruined the preceding awesomeness.


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