One of the biggest things that make or break a book for me is the characters. Those of you who regularly read my reviews know that I analyze the primary characters and any others that stand out to me in every book. It’s one of the first parts of every review I do. There are a range of great characters, and there a number of reasons why I will love, sympathize with, and/or understand a character. But one of the hardest things for an author to pull off, in my opinion, is a truly realistic character.
My reasoning on this is simple: a real character brings the good AND the bad to the table. They are flawed, they make mistakes, they have moments where the reader doesn’t like them. This is a hard balance to strike in writing, to find that perfect blend between the flaws and the good. To make it where even if the character is a jerkwad, it’s still someone the vast majority of readers will relate to. And it is with this in mind I am focusing on some characters in YA that, to me, are gritty and real, and memorable because of it.
Seth (Freefall by Mindi Scott): Seth’s reputation precedes him as a jerkwad. He is on a path going nowhere fast, an underachiever, and spends his time getting trashed. He has so many flaws it isn’t even worth trying to go into them right now. But he has plenty of good things about him too. He is driven in ways he doesn’t even recognize, he aspires to things he can't name… Seth is funny and awkward. Thinks he’s smooth when he’s not. And every time something happens that threatens to bring all his crap to light, he doesn’t just go okay! He struggles. He is just… real.
Delilah (Fixing Delilah by Sarah Ockler): Delilah is a train wreck. A mess. Broken, as her book title suggests. She fights with her mom while screaming inside for understanding and compassion. She closes herself off for protection. She questions and prods and pushes. Delilah hits so close to home for a range of girls. From her hissy fits and blow outs to her tender and sweet moments, she is one of the most strikingly realistic characters I’ve read.
Rand (Tell Me a Secret by Holly Cupala): Rand ignores the obvious signs of being pregnant. She makes pointless deals to avoid taking the test. She turns a blind eye to plenty of things, fights with her parents, and refuses to see their side of things. She’s bullied other kids. She’s run with the harshest of them all. She throws things in people’s faces, and shows some very dark sides of herself. But she puts everything she has into keeping her baby once she accepts the pregnancy. She owns up to the people she’s hurt, and the way her best friend has treated people and her. For every bad thing about her, there is more than one good thing to outweigh it.
Alex (The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney): Alex is the perfect example of strong but broken, determined but scared. For every step she takes towards gaining what she lost from her date rape, something always seems to set her back. She suffers from guilt and self blame, even doubts about the events that passed. The reader sees Alex at her worst—and sees her try to get past that.
Dylan (Take Me There by Carolee Dean): He’s been to juvie. He’s on probation. And at the opening of the book, he’s on the run from the law and going from California to Texas because of it. He seems to wreck everything he touches, he’s trying to turn his life around and failing at every turn, and he keeps getting mixed up in all the wrong situations at all the wrong times. He doesn’t handle things in the best of ways, and he suffers the consequences for it. But he tries in a fierce way, he experiences some intense emotions, and he does what he can to better himself and his best friend.
Ernie (Diary of a Witness by Catherine Ryan Hyde): Ernie is overweight. He only has one friend. He’s bullied. But Ernie is a good friend, tries to help people, and is able to see outside of even his own not so great situation. He misses some very big things that could have horrible impacts, and is forced to make some hard decisions. But he does it. Maybe he questions it, but he does it anyhow.