Jessica, Hespeler | January 23, 2015
A narrator can make or break a book. Usually adult characters narrate adult fiction, however many of the most compelling narrators have been children. From Holden Caulfield and Scout Finch to more recent creations like Flavia De Luce and Paddy Clarke, child narrators have made a strong impression with readers young and old alike.
When child characters narrate adult fiction, the subject matter tends to be serious or even dark. Think kidnapping in Room, murder in The Lovely Bones, or slavery in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. A child’s perspective offers a fresh take on these familiar topics. Room, for example, could have just been another grim story about escaping captivity, but with five-year-old Jack as our narrator it becomes a tale of discovery and love.
Although they usually tell the truth as they perceive it, children have a tendency to be unreliable narrators. The narrator of The Bear is too young to fully comprehend her parents’ deaths. Huck Finn is too naïve to recognize dangerous characters and situations. The autistic adolescent narrator of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time has difficulty understanding other people’s behavior. Adult readers must read between the lines to get the whole story.
Child narrators offer a unique reading experience in adult fiction. Perhaps the adult reader seeks a fresh perspective on familiar themes. Maybe we simply enjoy stories about loss of innocence and growing up. Or perhaps the real appeal is the wonderfully drawn characters who narrate these books. Whatever the allure, it’s safe to say child narrators are here to stay.
Tell us about your favourite young narrators, and be sure to check out our recommendations in the Child Narrators booklist.