Literature is full of stuff we love to hate. If there’s one thing readers are going to do, it is get irrationally invested in fictional worlds and characters. We have strong opinions about our faves and even stronger feelings about those we dislike.
Of course, we realize that there have to be loathsome characters. Otherwise, stories would be without conflict and consequences and would be dull and unrealistic. However, there is something particularly irritating about an unlikable main character. If we’re supposed to root for them or experience the story from their perspective, it can be especially frustrating.
Now, I could’ve easily filled these lists with the best trifling main characters from classic literature. My Facebook friends, fellow Book Riot writers, and I all have very strong feelings about many well-known characters. While I tried to use more contemporary titles in this list, I simply must shout out some of the terrible fictional folks we’ve been putting up with for decades or more.
Forgive me if I’ve missed any of your fictional nemeses! As an apology, allow me to present you with a plethora of new characters to hate. Here are 10+ of the best trifling main characters in contemporary fiction.
Main Characters We (Love to) Hate
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Unsurprisingly, this popular book-turned-movie tops the list of great books with unlikable characters. Main protagonist, Rachel Watson, may be one of the best trifling main characters ever. An unreliable narrator due to her alcoholism, Rachel makes her situation worse at every possible turn. Who ingratiates herself to the grieving partner of a murdered woman she only knew in her internal fantasies? Though Rachel was surrounded by a truly trifling cast of characters, getting the story from her muddled point of view made her the one we love to hate.
The It Girl by Ruth Ware
According to a Facebook friend, the main character in Ruth Ware’s The It Girl is another trifling protagonist. Instead of being vulnerable, she is apparently whiny and self-centered. The story centers on Hannah and her group of college friends, which ends up reduced by one when the “it girl” of the clique is murdered by the school’s porter. Years later, a journalist uncovers evidence that the porter was innocent and that someone in their friend group was the true killer.
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Much like Wuthering Heights and The Great Gatsby, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl is completely devoid of likable characters. Obviously, main protagonist Amy’s sleazeball cheater of a husband sucks, but the cast is chock full of absolute a-holes. Husband’s side chick? Young, dumb trash. Amy’s impossible-to-satisfy parents? Passive-aggressive trash. The WASPy search volunteers, Amy’s superficial ex-boyfriend and his helicopter mama: trash, trash, trash. Of course, Queen Trash herself, Amy Dunne, is a manipulative, homicidal, entitled criminal mastermind who might just be the best trifling main character of all time.
Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
Unsurprisingly, many bestsellers feature on this list; there’s nothing like an engrossing book to get people all riled up. Prep is one such book. Another Facebook friend contributed this title, contending that the protagonist was awful. To quote her: “I had visceral reactions to everything she did/said because she was the peak of ‘cliché writing’ and soooooo flat. The book itself was well written, but the main character was the worst.”
Yellowface by R. F. Kuang
Despite the acclaim for this book, it features one of the best trifling main characters in literature. June Hayward is a struggling white writer who takes the manuscript her Chinese American friend left behind after a car accident. As her success grows, she appropriates Asian American culture for her own gain. Unfortunately, as the novel is told from the first-person perspective, readers have to endure her rationalizations for her theft and racism, as she keeps digging a deeper hole for herself instead of admitting she stole someone else’s work.
My Heart is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones
As an avid horror fan, I wanted to love this story and its protagonist, but, alas, it was not to be. Despite several great aspects of the story, main character, Jade, is not one of them. It’s somewhat forgivable, given the abuse and trauma she’d suffered, but it is not easy to be in her head. She uses her love of horror movies to cope, but they’re all she talks and thinks about, making her an unreliable narrator who is deeply out of touch with the world around her. While the story held me until its dissatisfying conclusion, its main character annoyed me every step of the way.
When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
It wasn’t until after I read this one that I realized how truly trifling Dimple really was. I enjoyed her brash, determined personality and respected her refusal to give up on her dreams for a cute boy. However, after I read some thoughtful critiques, I saw that Dimple was a bit of a “Pick Me Girl.” She repeatedly judged other girls for how they dressed or behaved, often noting how she was “not like other girls.” I’m not sure why Rishi liked her, but a lot of readers didn’t share his high opinion.
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
Obviously, Jenny Han’s To All the Boys trilogy is a cultural juggernaut. They’ve been adapted into pretty good Netflix movies and amassed a huge fan base. I read them in 2020 when the world was falling apart, and I couldn’t seem to read at all. The sweet story was cozy and comforting in an uncertain world. Nonetheless, I understand the spirited contingent of people who love to hate protagonist Lara Jean. Her whole vibe is the hopeless romantic; she’s a bit of a doormat and reads as younger than she actually is. The most common complaint in Goodreads reviews is that she’s privileged, childish, and boring. Of course, that hasn’t stopped the book from topping bestseller lists and being named by Time as one of the best YA books of all time.
The Witch Elm by Tana French
Named one of The New York Times Notable Books of 2018 and a Best Book of 2018 by NPR, it’s hard to deny this is a great read. In this twisty, suspenseful crime thriller, “happy-go-lucky charmer” Toby seeks refuge in his ancestral home after a violent attack that leaves him gravely wounded. Of course, once he’s home, he has to face dark truths and suspicious detectives. Toby is easily one of the best trifling main characters ever. He’s blond, handsome, and privileged. He’s also misogynistic, elitist, and used to getting away with being terrible.
All the Feels by Olivia Dade
This title is set up like rom-com gold. A handsome, rogue actor and the former ER therapist hired to handle him — one impulsive, one rigid, oh the trope gods have smiled upon us. Naturally, he’s vulnerable and wounded or whatever underneath his bad boy exterior, and the smart woman can’t help but fall for him. Unfortunately, he’s so trifling that we’d rather she didn’t. He spends much of the first quarter of the book criticizing her looks and negging her relentlessly. Dude is a walking red flag, and not in the fun fantasy way.
While I go off and cleanse my palette with some Casey McQuinston or something, feel free to check out some similar posts. Happy hating!