Last week’s column sparked lots of conversation as well as an unintended (and spirited!) debate about L.M. Montgomery’s Dean Priest. That led me to an entertaining tangent: Unintentionally Unlikable Characters. I’m not talking about boring heroes (like Charles Darnay from A Tale of Two Cities or the titular character in Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe), antiheroes (like Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter Morgan or Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley) or even difficult protagonists (ranging from the minimally troubling Mary Lennox to the mondo-troubling Keir Sarafian).
Read more new and notable books for teens in August.
No, I’m talking about characters who we’re supposed to like, care about and sometimes, even identify with; but who, for various reasons, don’t inspire any of those feelings. A very few of these characters—like John Grisham’s Theodore Boone* or the young man in Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree**—are almost universally disliked. The majority are more divisive: For example, there are those who despise the heroine of The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen. (Not me, though! Love her.)
The top three on my list are:
Edward Cullen, of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga. Although his legions of fans would disagree, he’s a no-brainer. I can get past the fact that he’s super-emo, that he’s a walking disco ball with fangs, that he occasionally—OK, often—comes off as condescending, superior and smug. What I can’t get past is his controlling behavior. One of his few charms is that he is familiar with—and, more importantly, dislikes—the next guy on my list!
Heathcliff, of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. Um, what’s to like? Not only does he kick a dog, HE HANGS ONE. (Is it the same dog? I forget.) Despite a century and a half of swooning fans, I guarantee that my feelings in this department will forever hold firm: I can’t stand him***. (Actually, the same goes for Cathy, so as far as I’m concerned, they deserve each other. Yecch. Great book, totally engaging, engrossing and beautifully written, but its population is comprised entirely of people who are either pathetic or complete jerks.)
Gabry, of Carrie Ryan’s The Dead-Tossed Waves. I loved The Forest of Hands and Teeth. I loved the storyline, I loved the heroine, and more than anything else, I loved the world that Ryan created. But she switched things up in The Dead-Tossed Waves, and introduced Gabry, the whinging-est whinger who ever whinged. I loathed her so much that I still haven’t read the third book in the series, even though I’ve heard extremely positive chatter about it.
So. What about you?
*While I’ve heard tell of mysterious creatures who enjoy young Master Boone’s company, they must be skittish: I’ve never seen one in the wild.
**We’re supposed to identify with him, right? Maybe even sympathize? Anyway, although there are those of us who dislike it****, opinions on the book as a whole are generally positive, I very much doubt that there are many who approve of the boy. Disagree? Let me know!
****Relatedly: Are we supposed to get emotionally involved while reading The Giving Tree? Probably not, but if so, I’m guessing that blinding rage wasn’t what Silverstein was shooting for. Then again, we’re talking about the guy who wrote the delightfully twisted Uncle Shelby’s ABZ Book, so I suppose that anything is possible.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is probably engaged in yet-another pitched battle with her new cat.