My Favorite Boy Narrators of YA: An Annotated List
We will not even speak of the whole “but YA books are all for boys” argument here because that is madness. It’s also the chorus of people who appear to believe the only place books are available is on shelves at the bookstore. Hello, you people? There is a thing? Called the LIBRARY? Where they carry not just the most RECENT books but also books that were written, you know, 100 years ago?
I don’t know if the whole Boys Don’t Read argument is true or if it’s just a matter of publishers being annoyed that they cannot capture the boy customer demographic the way the video game industry does, but really, who cares? There are YA books featuring male main characters and they need to be discussed MORE, clearly, because these debates are beside the point. Boy narrators in YA exist and they are glorious. I love them especially, because without these titles, I don’t think I’d ever have even tried writing a boy narrator myself.
Below are six of my favorite titles and why:
by Laurie Halse Anderson. If you read YA, you know Laurie Halse Anderson is a titan of the genre and just basically excellent in all ways. Prior to Twisted, however, all of her books I’d read featured girl narrators. So when I got to know Tyler Miller, I was completely hooked at the notion of getting to be inside a boy’s head. (Though Laurie Halse Anderson is not a boy. But, you know, JK Rowling is not a wizard either, so…) Twisted is funny and candid and delicious, like getting to spy on the inner workings of a guy’s mind, something I’ve always dreamed of doing.
2) Ordinary Ghosts
by Eireann Corrigan. This book needs to be more popular and discussed. Because Emil Simon, where were you my entire adolescence? I would have loved you and held you and called you George! Though this book is very much about grief, Emil’s narration is funnier than hell. Still, the search for his brother, the loss of his mother, and the connection he finds with Jade balances with the humor in such a beautiful way that I just cannot stand it. I had to buy my own copy before I could return this book to the library. It also has one of the best scenes of first sex I’ve ever read.
3) Stupid Fast
by Geoff Herbach. If you don’t want to marry Felton Reinstein by the end of this book, then I don’t even want to know you. Nobody else writes about how things smell in quite the same way either. Felton is also not a super-aware observer of life, in that he’s a kind of way-above-average John Green boy character, quoting from philosophers and talking about chaos theory or whatever. He’s a simple kid with simple needs – to run until he stops panicking, to eat an entire loaf of bread, to avoid the weight room with its awful pee smells, to kiss Aleah the girl he likes. He’s one of my favorite characters in all of YA fiction, and happily, Geoff Herbach has written two other novels featuring him (Nothing Special and I’m With Stupid.)
4) Rats Saw God
by Rob Thomas. Attention Veronica Mars fans. In case you were going about unaware, before he made Veronica Mars, Rob Thomas wrote books. And Rats Saw God features Steve York as really the most delicious-nerd-90s guy EVER. He drives an El Camino, keeps his weed in his Battleship game case, and communicates with his astronaut father via notes left on the kitchen counter. Steve is also witty and notices everything, though he doesn’t say a lot on the surface. Knowing everything that is roiling under his bandana makes me so hopeful for mankind, though.
5) Under the Wolf, Under the Dog
by Adam Rapp. This one’s a bit more brutal than the previous four, but just as full of wit. Steve Nugent narrates two stories – his present situation in an adolescent psych ward and the earlier story that landed him there. Neither are pretty stories, but both have moments of humor and beauty that are obscenely delightful. The ending is one I emulate in my own storytelling and again, here is a first sex scene that is amazing, complicated, funny and beautiful all in one shot.
6) It’s Kind of a Funny Story
by Ned Vizzini. Another story set partially in a psychiatric ward that I don’t just recommend because of its portrayal of dealing with mental illness and therapy, but because the voice is spot-on and funny and honest. Craig’s descent into depression and hopelessness is heart-breakingly realistic and his family’s response is also very keen. This story is not entirely uplifting but features just enough light to make it realistic.
by Andrew Smith. This contemporary by Andrew Smith had me speechless for a few days after reading it. It’s brutal and sorrowful but also lyrical and beautiful. Stark McClellan sees and hears the world in a way that many boys don’t, which makes it a pleasure to be in his head. Unfortunately, he and his brother suffer at the hands of their parents in a way that too many kids do. Following both boys as they try to grow up in a world that is cruel and dangerous and also so full of love and joy is an experience I found unbelievably lovely.