Top Ten Tuesday: Character Driven Novels

We are back with another Top Ten Tuesday prompt, an original feature/weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish.  Today’s prompt: Top Ten Books for Readers Who Like Character Driven Novels.

I mentioned in my previous Top Ten Tuesday post that I am a somewhat impatient reader.  I am much less patient with slow moving narratives than I used to be.  I like plot. I like when things move along. I want to be swept away by a story.  I want escape.  I have kids who might interrupt me at any time – I want my books to move fast.  I’m offering this explanation because when I hear “character driven novels” I immediately think of books that are light on plot and heavy on navel-gazing.

There are plenty of character driven novels that also move along at a good clip, however.  For me, as a reader and a writer, all of the action in a story should be driven by characters acting authentically.  Sometimes they act fast, and sometimes slow.  At this point in my life, I’m drawn to the ones who like action.  Here are a few of my favorites:

1. Jackson Brodie from Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series. Can we talk about how sublime author Kate Atkinson is?  Her novels are gorgeous, intricate literary works that also (especially in the case of Jackson Brodie), move along with the pacing of a detective novel (which these are – kind of).  Literary crush alert: I have a huge one on Jackson Brodie.

2. Davie Jones from 32 Candles by Ernessa Carter. LOVED this book! It’s chick lit with serious literary flair.  Davie is broken and resilient, makes a mess out of things, and takes responsibility to fix her mistakes in an breathtaking, inventive manner.

3.  Elizabeth Bennet from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  Because duh.  (Okay, I can expand – her thoughtfulness, her discontent, her sharp-eyed and subtle critique of a world that affords her very few opportunities. And yeah, of course, because Darcy.)

4. Armand Gamache from Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series.  I shouldn’t like these mystery novels.  They’re almost too close to cozies and I like a little more grit in my crime novels. And sometimes I hate how the characters have deep, spiritual conversations just by looking each other in the eye across a crowded room.  But I do loves me the Armand Gamache and have been moved to tears once or twice (per book) by some of those intimate, spiritual glances.

5. Boy from Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi.  I just started reading this last night and devoured page after page on the treadmill this morning (because working out isn’t really working out unless you can read while doing so).  I am captivated by Boy’s voice and the slight disorientation as she – and we – find our way in the first pages.

6. Ari and Dante from Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz.  This is a gorgeous, gorgeous book about love, friendship, growing up.  The writing is pure and perfect.  The characters are indelible.  (And I cried a bunch.) Go read it right now.

7. Everyone in Melanie Rawn’s Dragon Prince and Dragon Star series.  Ari and Dante reminded me about other characters that have made me weep.  I’m not talking elegant misty eyes, either – I’m talking about full on, whole body sobs.  Like Melanie Rawn’s books, which I devoured several times over when I was a teenager.  Have these books stood the test of time?  Would late 30s Julie swoon over Rohan and his friends like 17-year-old Julie did?  Give me a nice, long winter break and let’s find out.

8. Citoyen “City” Coldson in Long Division by Kiese Laymon.  This is a cool book.  It’s actually two intertwined stories, held together by the dazzling voice of City Coldson.  There’s time travel, social media, race and racism, Hurricane Katrina and the Freedom Summer.  It’s the kind of book that sticks with you long after you finish it.

9. Early Auden in Navigating Early by Clare Vanderpool. I discovered this book while browsing ebooks on Overdrive from my library. The story focuses on Jack Baker, who’s been sent to a New England boarding school following some family tragedies, and his friendship with the slightly odd Early Auden.  There’s boating, wilderness, mysteries and pirates. (Pirates!)

10. Ruth and Nao in Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being. Of all the books on this list, this one comes closer to my limited “character-driven novels = slow reads” formula.  The character of Ruth spends a lot of time thinking and reading, but she’s reading Nao’s diary, which traveled across an ocean to wash up on Ruth’s beach.  Ruth wonders what happened to Nao, especially after suspecting that the diary washed into the ocean following the Japanese tsunami.  It’s beautifully done.

Those are some of my favorite character-driven novels.  What are yours?  Join the discussion in the comments or on my Facebook page.



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