In general, characters and character development is the most appealing part of a book for me. Even when the plot is mediocre, I tend to like the book if the characters are interesting. I have never really subscribed to the whole idea that a protagonist needs to be a likeable person. Sometimes the most interesting characters to read about are those who are more complex, even when they are not a very likeable person. We all naturally seem to have an aversion toward certain kinds of characters, which usually mirror the kind of people we don’t like much in real life. It is often easier to relate to characters who we like, especially when they remind us of ourselves of others we know well. However, I think in many cases, the unlikeable characters make the most interesting stories and often end up being characters that you root for. I don’t think you need to necessarily like the character on a personal level to get engaged in their story.
Top 5 Wednesday is a meme created by Gingerreadslainey on Youtube, and is now hosted by Sam at ThoughtsOnTomes. The official GoodReads group with the weekly topics can be found here.
1) Reshma Kapoor from Enter Title Here by Rahul Kanakia
To me, Reshma Kapoor is the epitome of the unlikeable protagonist. She is an extremely ambitious and competitive high school senior who is trying to write and publish a book in an attempt to get into the prestigious college of her choice. In an attempt to make her book more interesting, Reshma decides to try to get more “normal” high school experiences. Although it seems like it will be a very fluffy and light story, it ends up being an amazing exploration of pressure, mental health, and some of the flaws in the academic system. Reshma is conniving, selfish and not afraid to step on others to get what she wants — and yet I still found myself rooting for her and fully engaged with her story. It was by far one of the most unique YA books I’ve ever read, and I would highly recommend it.
2) Light Yagami from the Death Note series, by Tsugumi Ohba
I have not read a lot of manga, and I have to admit that I am basing this mostly off the anime series, which I adored! I have read the first couple of books of the manga series and they seem almost the same so I would imagine Light’s character is similar. Light is a bored high school student who discovers a Death Note, which is a notebook that was dropped by a shinigami (death god), giving him the power to kill. Light is an incredibly intelligent person who starts out relatively likeable, however he quickly gets caught up in the power of the Death Note and begins to take advantage of it. In the series, he is pitted against a brilliant but eccentric detective named L who tries to uncover Light’s identity and stop him. Light is another compelling protagonist who you can’t help but root for, even when you don’t agree with his actions.
3) Rachel from The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
I seem to be one of the minority, at least in my Goodreads groups, who really loved this book. I devoured it when I read it two years ago, and I loved the characters even if they weren’t the most likeable. The story is a mystery/thriller about a woman named Rachel who takes a commuter train every day, where she passes by a couple who she imagines have an ideal life. On the train one day, Rachel sees something shocking involving this couple and takes it open herself to uncover what happened. If I’m honest, I don’t really remember the characters being too unlikeable because they seemed pretty real to me. Rachel is an alcoholic, who is can be selfish, obsessive and annoying, and the other major characters also had some irritating qualities. I didn’t mind it because I thought it brought them to life, but one of the most common complaints I’ve seen about this book is how horrible the characters are.
4) Alex from The Female of the Speices by Mindy McGinnis
I read this book fairly recently, and while I definitely didn’t love it as much as everyone else seemed to, I think Alex can easily count as an unlikeable protagonist. The book is about Alex, a girl who sought vigilante justice for her sister’s murder three years earlier and who isolates herself from others due to her violent instincts, until her senior year where she befriends a couple of other students. Essentially, Alex was used as a means of challenging rape culture and the way women treat each other but she was quite an unlikeable character. She was loyal and protective, but also aggressive and I sometimes found it irritating how unrealistic she was. I found it hard to believe that a girl her age could take revenge so effectively and without anyone knowing. She definitely didn’t seem to be the kind of person I would like much.
5) Samantha from Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver
This is another book that I read not too long ago, and I had such a hard time getting into it because of the main character. Samantha was part of the popular crowd, and she and her friends were catty and shallow bullies. The story focuses on Sam’s chance to relive the last day of her life after she dies in a car accident, giving her the chance to try and change the outcome each time. Sam and her friends were definitely very realistic characters, but it was hard for me to enjoy reading about her. A lot of her behaviour seemed absolutely ridiculous to me, and unlike other books with popular main characters, Sam did not seem to have any qualms about the way she treated others. It improved by the end, of course, but for most of the book I found her very annoying.