One thing I’ve always found impressive in fiction is when an author captures a character’s voice in an authentic way – particularly if that voice belongs to a child. The best books narrated by young characters have a believable immediacy. They often have a limited perspective; an adult reader may be able to see a larger picture or understand more than the narrator does, and this usually increases our sympathy for the character.
It must be difficult for authors to write very young characters. I imagine they know a lot about different developmental stages, and they probably draw on their own childhoods as well, but it’s hard not to let what one knows in the present color what one remembers about the past. Essentially, authors writing child narrators must be able to erase much of what they know about the world as adults, to see things from a child’s perspective again.
When we’re reading, we’re not thinking about all the work the author had to do to create an authentic character and voice (at least not if the author was successful). We’re drawn in, amazed, impressed, sympathetic. Here are a handful of books with child narrators that have knocked our socks off, with links to more lists at the end of this post.
Scout Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Huck Finn in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Paddy Clarke in Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle
Carrie Parker in Me & Emma by Elizabeth Flock
Christopher in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Jack in Room by Emma Donoghue
Oskar in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Jamie in My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher
Lily Owens in The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
“Bone” in Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison
Amir in The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Unnamed narrator in The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
June Elbus in Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Blunt
Paloma in The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
Susie Salmon in The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Bee in Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
- “Adult Books with Child Narrators” from the Saskatoon Public Library
- “Ten of the Best Child Narrators” by John Mullan for The Guardian (UK)
- Susan Henderson, author of Up from the Blue, on Powell’s Books blog
- Goodreads shelves marked “child narrator”
- LibraryThing books tagged “child narrator”
What’s your favorite book narrated by a child? Is it one of the above, or one we neglected to mention? Please share!