Sunday, February 14, 2010

Let me out . . . unless . . .

As an aspiring writer of young adult fiction, I volunteered to judge the YA category in my local RWA chapter's contest. All of the entries that I received to judge were in first person point of view.
First person POV is popular in young adult books. I guess that's because it's supposed to make it easier for the reader to identify with the main character? Or because it worked so well for Stephenie Meyer.
And those are pretty good reasons.
But for me, personally, and not just in YA but in any genre, it is my least favorite POV choice.
It's too claustrophobic.
In first person you're confined to one character's head. But what if you don't like them? What if you don't get their sense of humor, or don't like their descriptions or you get sick of their snarky comments? Too bad for you. If you want to know what happens in that book, you have to let that character tell you.
It's like being stuck on the plane next to the guy with the monologue who insists on talking to you about people you don't know doing things you don't care about and the seatbelt sign is on so you can't get up and walk away.
It's exactly like that, except for one thing. You can put the book down.
Sometimes I wish I didn't have to. Sometimes I really like the concept, or the story, and I want to find out what happens. But if I don't like the first person narrator's voice, I drop the book in the bag to take to the Friends of the Library store.
Because I don't choose to torture myself like that. And when I don't like the voice, that's what it feels like. Torture.
At least with third person POV you get the author's voice. So even if you only get the one main character's point of view, you are also getting observations from outside of that character's head. And with third person, you often get more than one character's point of view.
So even if you don't particularly care for one character, you know it's not going to last forever. The seatbelt sign will be turned off soon.
On the other hand . . .
When I was complaining about how much I usually dislike first person POV, two of my fabulous Rockville8 critique partners reminded me that I LOVED their first person POV books.
I was shocked.
Because I did love their stories, but when I thought about them, I didn't remember that they were written in first person. I remembered the characters or the details or the setting or that they grabbed me by the throat. But not that they were written in first person.
And then I realized that some of my favorite books ever are written in first person.
I know! I just said it's my least favorite POV choice. And that's true . . . but sometimes I like the guy next to me on the plane. I get his sense of humor, and I love his descriptions, and his snarky comments.
And when I get off the plane, I will quote him to my friends and make them jealous that they were not lucky enough to sit next to him.
In that same spirit, here are three of my favorite first person POV young adult books:
"And finally," Jamie said as he pushed the door open, "we come to the main event. Your room."
I was braced for pink. Ruffles or quilting, or maybe even appliqué. Which was probably kind of unfair, but then again, I didn't know my sister anymore, much less her decorating style. With total strangers, it had always been my policy to expect the worst. Usually they—and those that you knew best, for that matter—did not disappoint.
Sarah Dessen, Lock and Key
I've loved every Sarah Dessen book that I've ever read, but Lock and Key is my favorite. It's completely in Ruby's POV, but that's not the first thing I remember about it. I remember that it grabbed hold of me and never let me go.
Then there's As You Wish, by Jackson Pearce. It's written in two first person POVs. Viola's and the jinn she calls forth by wishing . . .


All I've learned in today's Shakespeare class is: Sometimes you have to fall in love with the wrong person just so you can find the right person. A more useful lesson would've been: Sometimes the right person doesn't love you back. Or sometimes the right person is gay. Or sometimes you just aren't the right person.

Thanks for nothing, Shakespeare.

A Jinn:

She screams.

Of course. Mortal females tend to do that. It just had to be a female again.

Jackson Pearce, As You Wish

Viola and Jinn's voices are unique and they tell the story in alternating chapters which adds to the tension.

And finally, there's the book I read last night.

The book that grabbed me by the throat and would not let me go, even though I often wished it would.

Living Dead Girl, by Elizabeth Scott. If the first few pages don't hook you, here is Chapter 3. In it's entirety.

But read at your own risk. (I'm just saying.)

Once upon a time, I did not live in Shady Pines. Once upon a time, my name was not Alice. Once upon a time, I didn't know how lucky I was.

Elizabeth Scott, Living Dead Girl

So yeah. I hate first person. Except for when I don't hate it.

And then I LOVE it . . .

p.s. Some day, I will be able to link to one of those contest entries that I read because it was so good it just HAS to get published! It grabbed hold of me and didn't let go and I wish I could read the rest of it RIGHT NOW.

Photo credit:


  1. You are so right!POV can kill a story as easily as it can sweep the reader away. I, unlike you, love first person - as long as the voice is distinct. What annoys me is reading several novels by the same author in first person - about completely different characters - and having all the voices "sound" the same.

    I, too, loved As You Wish, and concur that Viola and Jinn have very distinct voices, so as the reader I was never confused with which POV I was reading.

    I wonder, though, how long this trend will go on for? From Tamora Pierce to grandfather of Urban Fantasy author Charles de Lint to National Book Award-winning author Sherman Alexie, YA readers are being presented with some extraordinarily well-written, award-winning novels set in first person. With that kind of competition, let alone the likes of those authors mentioned in your post, what option is a new author left to try?

  2. Ah, a First Person POV convert! Welcome to the dark side, Yvonne. Or maybe it's the bright side.

    Speaking as one of your critique partners who, a-hem, often writes in first person, that's the POV that makes me sit up and take notice. Because when it's done well, it can illuminate all the other aspects of the story. Like conflict. And even secondary characters.

    First Person POV can be a spotlight.

    But love it or hate it, shine on, Yvonne! Excellent blog post!

  3. Great blog, Yvonne. I enjoyed it. (Love the initial graphic.) You're right, of course. As long as it's done well, I'm willing to follow an author almost anywhere. Thanks for helping me think about what the issues are when 1st person POV is not working. And I'll add three more books to my ever-growing TBR pile. :)

  4. Marjanna -- I think some of the best stories have always been young adult -- that's what gets all of us reading in the first place. And I don't see the first person trend ending anytime soon.


    Nichole -- it must be the bright side you're trying to lure me over to. LOL. And I'm happy to visit there. :-) But I'll always go running back to third person.

    Candy -- you hit the nail on the head. As long as it's done well, I'll follow an author anywhere . . .

  5. I mis-wrote earlier - it is not Tamora Pierce but Alice Hoffman's as my third example of 1st person POV - again, another award winning adult literary voice, writing YA, in first person...

  6. I love first person POV. Thanks for the book recommendations. My to read pile just got bigger! Awesome post Y!

  7. Hey Mary -- I'm always happy to add to other people's "to read" piles!!! LOL!